It happens every two years.
Florida’s general election ballots overflow with proposed constitutional amendments. This year is no different. There will be 11 proposed state constitutional amendments on the November ballot.
And, as in most general elections, several of the proposed amendments are confusing and vaguely worded — purposely in some cases. And, like most elections, several of the proposed amendments have hidden agendas and consequences, of which voters would have no clue just by reading the wording on the ballot.
Our hope over the next three weeks is to help you understand the amendments.
To be sure, Florida has an unusual approach to its constitution. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which voters and federal lawmakers have amended only 17 times in 223 years, Florida’s path to amending the constitution is not overly burdensome. As a consequence, state lawmakers and special-interest groups — with voter approval — constantly are adding to and cluttering the state’s governing document with new constitutional laws. In fact, many of the amendments that have made it into the constitution over the past four decades should not be in the constitution; they’re more suited to be part of Florida’s statutes. This year’s list of 11 proposed amendments is no different.
Why do lawmakers and special-interest groups seek the constitutional amendment route? For the power and authority of the constitution. Neither the courts nor the Legislature can overturn or change the constitution; only voters. Statutes, on the other hand, are vulnerable to judicial interpretations and lawmaker meddling.
For this election, legislators initiated all of the proposed amendments. And while each of the 11 amendments required three-fifths approval in the House and Senate (both dominated by Republicans) to be placed on the ballot, behind each amendment was one or more lawmakers seeking to tilt Florida’s laws in a special way. This is what voters need to understand — the why behind the amendments.
This is especially so for Amendments 1, 6 and 8 — dealing with Obamacare, abortion and religious freedom, respectively.
As we present and analyze each of the 11 amendments, we’ll provide our recommendation — a “yes” or “no.” Our choice will be driven as it always is: We support amendments that will increase individual freedom; we oppose amendments that will decrease individual freedom and increase government intervention.
In this first installment, we are focusing on what is likely to be the most emotionally charged and volatile issue on the ballot:
Prohibition of public funding of abortions and “the construction of abortion of rights”
When you read the text of this proposed amendment, it is clear it addresses two issues.
The first is easy to understand — at least on the surface. But there is much more to it than it seems. The second part of the amendment is complicated, too, and also much more volatile.
Let’s start with Part I: prohibiting the use of tax dollars to fund abortions, with six exceptions.
Simple enough. And from our perspective, the first part of this amendment aligns with freedom test. Prohibiting the use of tax dollars to fund abortions is good for individual freedom. Here’s why: Flip the coin. Funding abortions with your tax dollars deprives you of the use of your money (your property) — it decreases your freedom — to provide an unearned benefit to a special class.
This amendment mollifies the pro-choice advocates, of course, by making six exceptions when tax dollars could be used for an abortion.
But one of the primary motivations behind the first part of this amendment is to pre-empt provisions in Obamacare.
Under Obamacare, states are expected to set up insurance exchanges, into which consumers can enroll for health insurance coverage. These exchanges, according to Obamacare, are allowed to offer policies that provide abortion services.
Many of the people who join these exchanges are expected to be individuals and families who will receive tax dollars and subsidies to enroll. In effect, they could use some of their tax dollars for abortions.
But Obamacare allows states to prohibit abortion coverage in qualified health plans offered through the exchanges. Thus, the first part of Amendment 6; it would prohibit subsidized consumers from using tax dollars for abortions.
The second section of Amendment 6 is likely to generate a nuclear firestorm from pro-choice advocates over the next month.
You can’t tell by its wording, but it is intended to wipe out a 23-year-old Florida Supreme Court ruling that has given Florida one of the most protective legal climates for abortion in the United States.
In 1989, the Florida Supreme Court concluded in “In re T.W., A Minor,” that, because Article I, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution contains an express right of privacy, the Florida Constitution gives broader rights with respect to an abortion than the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, in legal circles on the issue of abortion, Florida is considered to have one of the strongest abortion rights in the United States.
This has meant trying to regulate abortions with such laws as prior-parental consent is unconstitutional — even though the U.S. Supreme Court has previously upheld other states’ parental-consent statutes under Roe v. Wade.
Thus, the proposed amendment is attempting to bring an end to the courts saying that Florida’s privacy guarantee in the Florida Constitution can provide broader or greater abortion-regulation protections than does the U.S. Constitution. The authors of this amendment want to be able to craft laws that would increase the government’s intervention in minors’ decisions about abortion.
We oppose abortion. Tax dollars should not pay for it. Likewise, we oppose government intervention into individuals’ lives. Amendment 6, then, is a two-headed beast. One part supports greater freedom; one part would take it away. Pro-life advocates will support this measure. We can’t. It’s not honest with voters; there’s too much behind the words voters cannot see. We recommend: No.
Amendment 1: Health Care Services
Amendment 2: Veterans disabled due to combat injury; homestead property-tax discount
Amendment 3: State government revenue limitation
Amendment 4: Property-tax limitations; property value decline; reduction for non-homestead assessment increases; delay of scheduled repeal
Amendment 5: State courts
Amendment 7: Removed from ballot
Amendment 8: Religious freedom
Amendment 9: Homestead property-tax exemption for suriviving spouse of military veteran or first responder
Amendment 10: Tangible personal property-tax exemption
Amendment 11: Additional homestead exemption; low-income seniors who maintain long-term residency on property; equal to assessed value
Amendment 12: Appoint student body president to board of governors of the state university system
THIS WEEK’S ANALYSIS:
Prohibition of public funding of abortions and “the construction of abortion of rights”
“This proposed amendment provides that public funds may not be expended for any abortion or for health-benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. This prohibition does not apply to an expenditure required by federal law, a case in which a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would place her in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, or a case of rape or incest.
“This proposed amendment provides that the State Constitution may not be interpreted to create broader rights to an abortion than those contained in the United States Constitution. With respect to abortion, this proposed amendment overrules court decisions which conclude that the right of privacy under Article I, Section 23 of the State Constitution is broader in scope than that of the United States Constitution.”
Voters can find details on each amendment on the website of the Division of Elections, Florida Department of State: http://election.dos.state.fl.us/initiatives/initiativelist.asp?year=2012&initstatus=ALL&MadeBallot=Y&ElecType=GEN
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