As always, many of the proposed constitutional amendments sound good, but they aren’t.
Here we are again — on the verge of another national and statewide election. And as always, ballots will be loaded — not just with candidates’ names but also with proposed amendments to the state constitution.
Thankfully, this year’s ballots will have only six proposed amendments. Two years ago, Florida voters faced a mind-boggling 12 amendments.
And although this cycle’s proposed amendments are half the number, this year’s proposals have many of the same characteristics voters frequently encounter: They often appear straightforward and sound reasonable, but in reality many of them carry sneaky political agendas and negative consequences that voters don’t see.
Over the next two weeks in this space, we’ll present some of the pros and cons of the six proposed amendments, some of the hidden nuances, who’s funding the amendments’ campaigns and our recommendations.
As in the past, our recommendations typically result from a standard litmus test we apply to each proposed amendment:
- If adopted, will the amendment increase and/or protect individual freedom, or will it restrict or take away individual freedom? If it is the former, we likely will recommend a yes; if it’s the latter, no.
- Will the amendment limit the power and/or scope of government or expand it? If it’s the former, we typically recommend a yes vote; if it’s latter, no.
There are exceptions, but they are rare.
Amendment 1: Citizenship Requirement to Vote in Florida Elections
Summary: Provides that only a citizen of the United States who is at least 18 years of age, a permanent resident of the state, if registered as provided by law, shall be an elector of the county where registered.
This proposed amendment wreaks with an odd smell.
For one, why would anyone spend $8.3 million to propose a constitutional amendment that essentially does not change existing law — except for two words?
In this case, a political action committee known as Florida Citizen Voters is proposing to change the first word of Section 2, Article VI of the constitution from “Every citizen of the United States …” to “Only a citizen of the United States … shall be an elector …”
What’s the difference? We’ll explain. First, the peculiarities of who’s behind this effort.
The primary sponsor behind Florida Citizen Voters is a Ponte Vedra Beach-based not-for-profit known as Citizen Voters Inc. And that organization is not required to reveal the source of its $8.3 million in contributions.
One of the principals operating both organizations is John Loudon, a termed-out Republican state representative and senator from Missouri and former insurance broker. Loudon and his wife, Gina, who now live in West Palm Beach, are members of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. Gina Loudon has served on a Trump campaign advisory board.
John Loudon, it turns out, teamed up with a nationally recognized petition management consultant and friend, Tim Mooney, whose credentials include working for more than 250 candidates and ballot campaigns, including a campaign for former Gov. Charlie Crist. Mooney told the Washington Post last year he was planning citizen-voting amendment campaigns similar to Florida’s in 13 other states.
The intent is seemingly straightforward: In an opinion article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel a year ago, Loudon wrote that the “extreme left” is advocating giving noncitizens the right to vote. “They’re calling noncitizen voting ‘the newest civil right.’ We want to proactively ensure elections in every state in the U.S. are preserved for committed citizens of the U.S.”
Although this campaign reveals the ugly underbelly of how political operatives on both sides (e.g., George Soros on the Democratic Party side) use the funds of undisclosed contributors to try to tilt the political landscape in their favor, if you strip away the political operatives, the intent and consequences of this amendment actually are favorable.
This change in the constitution will explicitly state who can and cannot vote in Florida. It’s a two-word change that will help protect the rights, voices, liberty and sovereignty of legal U.S. citizens in Florida.
We recommend: Yes
Amendment 2: Raising Florida’s Minimum Wage
Summary: Raises the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour effective Sept. 30, 2021. Each Sept. 30 thereafter, minimum wage shall increase by $1 per hour until the minimum wage reaches $15 per hour on Sept. 30, 2026. From that point forward, future minimum wage increases shall revert to being adjusted annually for inflation starting Sept. 30, 2027.
This is so incongruous — and to an extent, amusing: Why would the self-proclaimed trial lawyer “For the People” spend $5 million to fund a constitutional amendment campaign that, if the measure is approved, would hurt most the very people he claims to protect?
But that’s what Orlando legal mogul John Morgan is doing. He wants to increase it from $8.56 an hour to $15 an hour by 2026.
To be sure, raising the government-imposed minimum wage always sounds like such a righteous thing to do.
But it’s quite ironic that such a compassionate capitalist mogul as Morgan apparently dismisses what economists and data have proven for decades: Raising the minimum wage prevents people on the lowest economic rungs from employment.
Let’s go back to one of our favorites, the late Milton Friedman. In 1966, this is what he wrote in Newsweek about raising the federal minimum wage from $1.25 to $1.60 an hour:
“Does a merchant increase his sales by raising prices? Does higher pay of domestic servants induce more housewives to hire help? The situation is no different for other employers. The higher wage rate decreed by Congress for low-paid workers will raise the cost of the goods that these workers produce — and must discourage sales. It will also induce employers to replace such workers with other workers — either to do the same work or to produce machinery to do the same work or to produce machinery to do the work.
“The result will be and must be to add to the ranks of the unemployed.”
And he was right. Teen unemployment went from less than 8% in 1967 to 12% by 1971. For black male teens, the unemployment rate rose from 35% to 40%.
After Seattle went from $9.47 to $13 an hour over two years, here’s what happened, according to professors of public policy at the University of Washington:
The “Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance caused hours worked by low-skilled workers (those earning less than $19 per hour) to fall by 9.4% during the three quarters when the minimum wage was $13 per hour, resulting in a loss of 3.5 million hours worked per calendar quarter. Alternative estimates show the number of low-wage jobs declined by 6.8%, which represents a loss of more than 5,000 jobs.”
All of which proves raising the minimum wage in Florida’s service-based, retail-based, hospitality-based economy would be more bad news on top of the already COVID-19 employment disasters in those sectors.
It gets worse — for all Floridians. State analysts estimate the higher minimum wages will increase the cost of state and local government wages $16 million in 2022 and then increase to $540 million in 2027 and thereafter. Who will bear that burden? You.
Sure, some workers will benefit. But mostly because they’ll face less competition for jobs. That’s why the unions support higher minimum wages. It’s more job protection.
More fundamentally, government has no business intervening and distorting the market. What an employer pays an employee is a private, peaceful contract on which the two agree. It is in employers’ economic interest to pay competitive wages, so they can attract the right people.
Conversely, no one forces an employee to work for an unacceptably low wage. If an employer skimps, don’t take the job.
Although everyone who supports higher minimum wages is well intended, the outcome is that those who need wages the most will not be employed at all. And overall, there will be less total employment than there otherwise would be, which would make all Floridians worse off.
We recommend: No
Amendment 3: All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for State Legislature, Governor and Cabinet.
Summary: Allows all registered voters to vote in primaries for the Legislature, governor and cabinet regardless of political party affiliation. All candidates for an office, including party nominated candidates, appear on the same primary ballot. Two highest vote-getters advance to general election. If only two candidates qualify, no primary is held, and winner is determined in general election. Candidate’s party affiliation may appear on ballot as provided by law. Effective January 1, 2024.
On the surface, this can look like a good idea.
This measure would allow more people — in particular the 3.6 million Non-Party Affiliates (26% of Florida’s registered voters) — to participate in the primary elections for state offices. Many NPAs say they are being disenfranchised by being unable to vote in primaries.
So it would seem this measure would pass our “increased freedom” litmus test — giving more people the right to vote — right?
But let’s cut to the quick: In reality, this proposed amendment would be an expansion and intrusion of government into the affairs of private organizations. Less freedom for the major and private political parties. More government social engineering.
Put it this way: Would the members of the Sierra Club want the government to rule that the members of the American Petroleum Association could vote on the election of the Sierra Club’s officers? Of course not.
Likewise in this instance.
When voters choose not to affiliate with a political party, they know the consequences. What’s more, you can bet there are plenty of Republicans and Democrats who don’t subscribe to their parties’ activities, but they either tolerate them or try to change them (e.g. Donald Trump and the Republicans).
Please don’t buy the sugar-coated pablum that open primaries will eliminate far left or far right candidates and result in more moderate government that will be better than what we have. Politics, no matter what, is all about gorging one group at the expense of another.
Let’s sum it up by quoting Alexis de Tocqueville, author of the famous “Democracy in America”:
“The most natural privilege of man, next to the right of acting for himself, is that of combining his exertions with those of his fellow creatures and of acting in common with them. The right of association therefore appears to me almost as inalienable in its nature as the right of personal liberty. No legislator can attack it without impairing the foundations of society.”
We recommend: No
Amendment 4: Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments; Article XI, Sections 5 and 7
Summary: Requires all proposed amendments or revisions to the state constitution to be approved by the voters in two elections, instead of one, in order to take effect. The proposal applies the current thresholds for passage to each of the two elections.
When thinking Americans delve into the sanctity and importance of the U.S. Constitution, there is a deep-rooted reverence and profound respect for that most hallowed document.
Indeed, in the 233 years since it was ratified, American voters have amended the Constitution only 27 times.
Now contrast that with this:
Since Florida voters ratified the current constitution in 1968, the state constitution has been amended 140 times.
Obviously, Florida’s constitution does not beget the same reverence as the U.S. Constitution. Too bad; it should.
That is partly the reason Fort Lauderdale law partners Jason Haber and Jason Blank are leading the effort for the passage of Amendment 5. Haber and Blank’s not-for-profit organization, Keep Our Constitution Clean Inc., has raised and contributed $9 million to the Keep Our Constitution Political Committee.
They did not respond to the Observer’s request for an interview. But their website explains part of the rationale for their proposed amendment: to stop “what has become ‘legislating’ through the constitution.”
That is a reference to special interest groups frequently using the state’s citizen initiative process to have their causes enshrined in the constitution rather than persuade lawmakers to adopt them as statutes.
More often than not, Florida’s proposed amendments are better suited to be adopted by the Legislature as statutes. Statutes are much more easily modified, amended, updated or repealed than are amendments.
But frustrated by a stubborn Legislature that refuses to address their causes, special interest groups instead opt for the amendment process. What’s more, these groups often find it much easier to appeal to the gullible emotions of voters than sway lawmakers. A prime example: This year’s Amendment 2, “For the People” lawyer John Morgan’s attempt to raise Florida’s minimum wage.
How many of Florida’s 13.5 million registered voters, for instance, will research the pros and cons of that amendment and who’s pushing it and why?
That’s why Haber and Blank want to require proposed amendments to be approved with 60% or more of the vote in two consecutive general elections. Part of the thinking is that would give voters more of an impetus to learn the details of proposed amendments.
But, of course, let’s be blunt here: The name of Haber and Blank’s not-for-profit, Keep the Constitution Clean Inc., has a good, positive ring to it. What they really want to do is make it more difficult for citizens and special interest groups to get their causes on the ballot.
In the end, you can say this proposed amendment comes down to this: What do you want: a tougher-to-amend constitution that primarily addresses the relationships between the three branches of government, sets up the boundaries in which they can operate and states our rights? Or a system, which exists now, that allows for direct democracy and clutters up the constitution?
Although we agree that the Florida Constitution is cluttered with measures unfit for a constitution, according to our litmus test, this amendment would add another layer of government and diminish people’s freedom.
We recommend: No
Amendment 5: Limitations on Homestead Property Tax Assessments; Increased Portability Period to Transfer Accrued Benefit; Article VII, Section 4 and Article XII
Summary: Proposing an amendment, effective Jan. 1, 2021, to increase, from two to three years, the period during which accrued Save-Our-Homes benefits may be transferred from a prior homestead to a new homestead.
Trying to explain the nuances behind this amendment is probably so technical that most voters’ eyes will glaze over.
But in fact, unlike many proposed amendments, there isn’t some sneaky, nefarious subterfuge at play here. When Rep. Rick Roth, R-Palm Beach Gardens, filed this proposed amendment as a House bill in the last legislative session, it was intended to correct an unintended glitch in a 2008 constitutional amendment that voters approved.
That amendment gave homesteaded property owners the ability to transfer the value of their homestead exemptions when they sold their home and purchased a new one. That 2008 amendment gave property owners up to two years to transfer the value of their exemptions to their new property.
But because of the way the amendment was written, it turned out two years was not really two years. Say you sold your home in December 2019. As is, the law would require you to move into your newly purchase home by Jan. 1, 2021 — the second Jan. 1 from the time you sold your home.
For many homeowners waiting for their new homes to be completed, the timeline was too short, causing them to lose the portability of their exemptions.
Amendment 5 corrects that, extending from two to three years the time to transfer the value of the exemptions accumulated in your previous home.
As we said, it’s complicated. Suffice to say, even though homestead exemptions are an anachronistic subsidy to property owners, this amendment relaxes government regulations and is a benefit to taxpayers.
We recommend: Yes
Amendment 6: Ad Valorem Tax Discount for Spouses of Certain Deceased Veterans who had Permanent, Combat-Related Disabilities, Article VII, Section 6 and Article XII
Summary: Provides that the homestead property tax discount for certain veterans with permanent combat-related disabilities carries over to such veteran’s surviving spouse who holds legal or beneficial title to, and who permanently resides on, the homestead property, until he or she remarries or sells or otherwise disposes of the property. The discount may be transferred to a new homestead property of the surviving spouse under certain conditions. The amendment takes effect Jan. 1, 2021.
For the past decade, Florida lawmakers repeatedly have placed on the ballot proposed constitutional amendments with an intent to honor combat-wounded military veterans and disabled first responders — and in the process make Florida one of the most attractive states in the nation for these heroes.
And Floridians have obliged.
Since 2010, Floridians have adopted five constitutional amendments that give homestead property-tax exemptions and college tuition waivers to these service men and women and their surviving spouses and family members.
- 2010: An additional homestead tax exemption for members of the military, military reserves, Coast Guard or its reserves and Florida National Guard who were deployed in the previous year on active duty outside the continental U.S., Alaska or Hawaii in support of military operations designated by the Legislature.
- 2012: This amendment expanded the homestead exemption to veterans who became disabled as a result of a combat injury and who were not Florida residents when they entered the military.
- 2012: This amendment extended property-tax relief to the surviving spouse of a military veteran who died from service-connected causes while on active duty or to the surviving spouse of a first responder who died in the line of duty.
- The amendment authorizes the Legislature to totally exempt or partially exempt all property taxes. First responders include: law enforcement and correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics.
- 2016: This amendment authorize a first responder who is totally and permanently disabled as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty to receive relief from property taxes on homesteaded property.
- 2018: This amendment grants mandatory payment of death benefits and waives certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders and military members killed in action.
So now, in 2020, the Legislature is asking Floridians to extend homestead property tax exemptions to the spouses after their combat-wounded or disabled veterans have died.
Longtime Observer readers know we typically reject government bestowing special favors and subsidies for anyone. What you give to one means you must tax someone else more.
But this is different. Our service men and women and first responders volunteer to put their lives at risk in defense of our freedom and nation and for our safety.
They give up a lot — their families and their own personal safety and security. In return and in the scheme of society at large, granting them these property-tax subsidies are a small repayment.
To an extent, you could argue these subsidies to veterans, first responders and their families add to our freedom. They reward those who protect us.
We recommend: Yes