Faced with the longest list of proposed constitutional changes in two decades, Floridians voted Tuesday to approve 11 of 12 constitutional amendments on the midterm ballot, clearing the 60 percent threshold required to pass.
Only Amendment 1 fell short of the votes needed to enact it, and government officials around the state are probably relieved. The Legislature voted to refer the exemption to the ballot in 2017, and the changes would have applied to the assessed value of a homestead property between $100,000 and $125,000, raising the maximum exemption to $75,000. Homeowners would have saved a couple hundred dollars with the change, effective Jan. 1, though a legislative staff analysis had estimated local governments — which rely on property taxes for revenue — would lose about $645 million in the first year if approved.
Among those that passed were Amendments 4, 3 and 13 which restore felons rights, give voters authority to expand casino gambling and end greyhound racing in the state, respectively.
Amendment 4, is the landmark proposal that would restore felons’ voting rights with some exceptions.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Amendment 3 gives voters the right to authorize and potentially expand casino gambling in the state. It takes the power away from the Florida Legislature.
Amendment 2 cements a 10 percent annual cap on increases in all non-homestead property assessments.
Amendment 7 provides survivor benefits for the families of first responders and military service members, and makes changes to governance of public colleges and universities.
Amendment 6 creates a bill of rights for crime victims and set two new sets of requirements for judges.
More than half of the statewide measures on the ballot were placed by the powerful Constitution Revision Commission this year, a panel that convenes once every 20 years to propose changes to the state’s constitution. Many of those amendments were also yoked together in a practice called “bundling,” meaning in some cases voters had to vote for all the proposals in an amendment or reject them all with a single “yes” or “no.”
Proponents of the practice cited fears of ballot fatigue should every proposal be a separately suggested amendment. But opponents — including several groups that eventually brought half a dozen challenges up to the state Supreme Court — contended the bundling was politically motivated to improve or weaken proposals’ chances of passing and crippled voters’ ability to decide each proposal on its merits.
The protracted lawsuits, the last of which was settled only three weeks before the election, did knock out Amendment 8, relating to charter schools.
The Republican-controlled Legislature also placed three items on the ballot, all dealing with tax issues.
Here’s how Floridians voted on the remaining amendments:
▪ Amendment 13, a highly charged proposal to end greyhound racing in Florida, passed. It means the roughly dozen racing tracks in Florida will have to shutter by 2020. Animal protection groups celebrated the victory, calling the win a “historic effort.”
“Tonight, in an historic vote, Florida voters have delivered a knock-out blow to a cruel industry that has been hurting and killing dogs for nearly a century,” the Yes on 13 campaign wrote in a statement. “This is a small step in turning the page on a relic of the old economy, but a giant step for animal protection nationwide.
Florida is home to 11 of the remaining 17 greyhound racing tracks in the country.
“Because of the decision of millions of Florida voters, thousands of dogs will be spared the pain and suffering that is inherent in the greyhound racing industry,” said Kitty Block, acting president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
▪ Amendment 5, which passed, was also proposed by lawmakers this year and would require a two-thirds super-majority vote in the Legislature to impose, approve or raise state taxes and fees. The higher threshold means it will take only a third of members in either the state House or Senate to block any future tax increases or repeal existing exemptions. The idea, floated by Gov. Rick Scott last year, will also stop any provisions to raise taxes or fees from being tacked onto other state bills, though not applicable to any fees or taxes that would be levied by local governments or agencies, such as school districts.
▪ Amendment 9, one of the more contentious bundled amendments from the CRC, tethered a ban on oil and gas drilling in state-owned waters with a proposal to add vaping to the ban on smoking indoors. Voters chose to pass the amendment Tuesday. The decision was among those that were belatedly decided by the state Supreme Court last month, which chose to retain it and two other bundled amendments on the ballot, though ballots had already been printed before that date.
▪ Amendment 10 linked four proposals: one to have the state’s legislative session start in January rather than March in even-numbered years (the legislature currently changes its dates by statute), two that would create a counter-terrorism office and make the state veterans affairs department constitutionally required, and a proposal that would require five county-level offices to be elected. Voters passed the measure with about 63 percent of the vote. The last proposal will affect sheriffs, tax collectors, property appraisers, supervisors of elections and clerks of circuit court. It had particular relevance for the state’s most populous county, Miami-Dade, which is the only county that does not elect a sheriff and instead has an appointed police director.
▪ Amendment 11, which passed, sought to revise the Constitution to remove some language, including a provision that stops “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and wording approving a high-speed rail system. It also proposed removing the state’s Savings Clause, which prohibits retroactively applying the amendment of a criminal statute to sentencing for a crime committed before the change, though the amendment clarified that repealing a criminal statute would not necessarily affect the prosecution of that crime committed previously.
▪ Amendment 12 bars public officials from lobbying both during their terms and for six years following, and restricts current public officers from using their office for personal gain. Voters chose to pass the single-subject proposal Tuesday.