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Opinion
Longboat Key Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 1 week ago

Amendments: 7 thru 13

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A look at the rest of the questions on the ballot
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

This week marks the second and final installment of analyzing the meaning and effects of the 12 proposed state constitutional amendments on the November ballot and our recommendations.

Last week’s Our View focused on Amendments 1 through 6. This week, we examine Amendments 7 and 9 through 13. The Florida Supreme Court struck Amendment 8 from the ballot: 

AMENDMENT 7: First responder and military member survivor benefits; public colleges and universities.

Grants mandatory payment of death benefits and waiver of certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders and military members who die performing official duties. Requires supermajority votes by university trustees and state university system board of governors to raise or impose all legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies. Establishes existing state college system as constitutional entity; provides governance structure.

In past years, we have supported property tax breaks for military veterans and first responders. This proposed amendment falls into that category — bestowing a privilege on the families of those who are killed in the line of duty.

Unfortunately, the proposal is vague. It doesn’t specify amounts for death benefits and educational expenses. It says the state “shall waive certain educational expenses.” Voters have no idea to what they are being committed.

The second part of this amendment, in effect, restricts government’s ability to tax. State universities’ governing bodies are notorious for raising tuition and imposing new fees. Indeed, we all know the cost of college has risen far faster than cost of most consumer goods and services. Any measure that limits or restricts the power of government is always a plus for liberty.

The third part of this measure attempts to codify in the constitution for Florida’s state colleges, formerly the community colleges, the same governing structure that oversees the state’s university system. You can make the case that this makes sense. Both systems should be governed similarly. 

But another way to look at this is that approving this cements in the constitution another governing bureaucracy. Keep this in mind: Once this is in the constitution, it would take 60% of Florida voters to remove it, which is highly unlikely.

What if one day it makes sense for all of Florida’s public universities and colleges to be governed by one set of trustees and a board of governors? If this amendment passes, that option is virtually eliminated. The governance of state colleges can be addressed through statutes; it doesn’t need to be in the constitution.

This amendment is a mish-mash of good intentions, vaguely worded.

We recommend: Vote no.

AMENDMENT 9: Prohibits offshore oil and gas drilling; prohibits vaping in enclosed indoor workplaces 

Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. Adds use of vapor-generating electronic devices to current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces with exceptions; permits more restrictive local vapor ordinances.

Most Floridians instinctively would say these two measures are the proverbial “slam dunks.” By all means, make clean water and clean air constitutional!

But for starters, it was wrong to bundle these two proposals. They should be separate.

Nevertheless, the merits and consequences: 

Vaping: Why is it OK to create smoking rooms in public airports, but not OK to let private citizens operate a workplace of smokers who choose that environment? To put a constitutional ban on smoking and vaping in the workplace is discrimination and government intrusion into individual freedom.

What’s more, why is it not discrimination when you ban an employer from allowing smoking and vaping in the workplace, and yet if an employer declines to hire smokers and vapers, he would be sued for discrimination? In both cases, the employer loses: his freedom to manage his property and his freedom to decide whom to employ.

Offshore drilling: We all know the environmental arguments against drilling. They’re all about the environment and tourism. 

But at what price? Imagine another energy crisis — prices skyrocketing, the poor unable to afford electricity, transportation costs crippling the economy. Then it turns out there is a huge supply of natural gas 11 miles off Florida’s coast. Tapping that supply could reverse the crisis. Alas, a constitutional ban would prevent any drilling.

You never know. 

Both of these measures should be addressed legislatively, not in the constitution.

We recommend: Vote no.

AMENDMENT 10: State and local government structure and operation 

Requires Legislature to retain Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Ensures election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors and clerks of court in all counties; removes county charters’ ability to abolish, change term, transfer duties or eliminate election of these offices. Changes annual legislative session commencement date in even-numbered years from March to January; removes legislature’s authorization to fix another date. Creates office of domestic security and counterterrorism within department of law enforcement.

Another bad case of bundling — four issues in one amendment.

Florida government has a Department of Veterans Affairs; it’s just not mandated in the state constitution. The Legislature and governor could abolish it, but c’mon, they wouldn’t dare — not with nearly 1.6 million active duty, reservists and veterans living in the state.

Codify an office of counterterrorism in the constitution? How the state’s law enforcement officers manage their resources should be up to them and the needs of the times, not cemented in constitutional concrete.

Who cares, other than lawmakers, about the start date of the Legislature on even-numbered years? Whatever.

But the most crucial part of this amendment would take away voters’ home-rule powers. While uniformity in the elected offices of Florida’s 67 counties makes sense, most people also know that government is best when decisions are made locally and not dictated by the state. The crux of this amendment would reduce voters’ freedom to govern themselves.

We recommend: Vote no.

AMENDMENT 11: Property rights; removal of obsolete provision; criminal statutes

Removes discriminatory language related to real property rights. Removes obsolete language repealed by voters. Deletes provision that amendment of a criminal statute will not affect prosecution or penalties for a crime committed before the amendment; retains current provision allowing prosecution of a crime committed before the repeal of a criminal statute.

It’ll be a wonder if Floridians understand this amendment. You need to know the background.

But first, a telling factoid: Of all the proposed amendments the Constitutional Revision Commission approved, this one received the widest margin of approval: 36-1.

Commission members justify the bundling of these three disparate measures as removing three outdated provisions in the state constitution.

Property rights: In 1926, Florida added a provision to the constitution that prohibits foreign-born people not eligible for citizenship from owning, disposing or inheriting property. Historical accounts say this was intended to stop Asian farmers from coming into Florida. 

Other states have had similar provisions ruled unconstitutional and repealed the law. Florida has not enforced this provision. So members of the CRC overwhelmingly believe it’s time to remove it. Indeed.

“Obsolete language”: In 2000, Florida voters approved an amendment to create a high-speed rail system. Four years later, voters repealed the amendment. But the language creating the rail is still in the constitution. This amendment would remove the obsolete language.

Criminal statute: This is the most important part of Amendment 11. In 1885, Florida adopted a constitutional provision that said whatever the sentence is at the time a crime occurs, that’s the sentence, even if future Legislatures reduce the sentence for the same crime. This is known as the “Savings Clause.” Florida is the only state with this law.

Amendment 11’s language would remove the ban of changing sentences retroactively and give the Legislature the authority to do so. 

It comes down to fairness: If a criminal is sentenced at the time according to what the law prescribed, is that the price the criminal should pay — even if the law is later changed? Or should he be afforded an opportunity for a lesser sentence if a new law reduces the crime’s sentence?

It’s not as if there will be wholesale releases of felons. This provision will give the Legislature the flexibility to change sentences retroactively.

We oppose bundled amendments. But this one leans in the direction of expanding freedom.

We recommend: Vote yes.

AMENDMENT 12: Lobbying and abuse of office by public officers 

Expands current restrictions on lobbying for compensation by former public officers; creates restrictions on lobbying for compensation by serving public officers and former justices and judges; provides exceptions; prohibits abuse of a public position by public officers and employees to obtain a personal benefit. 

Few things irritate voters more than former elected and public officials becoming rich, fat-cat lobbyists.

Amendment 12 would triple the amount of time former public officials would be barred from lobbying their former colleagues.

But consider: Information, experience and wisdom are all forms of currency. Then there is this: The older the colder. The longer you are out of the game, the less your value.

Sure, intuition says: “Ban the bums!” But this proposed six-year ban can also be construed as government overreach into individuals’ free speech and pursuit of happiness. It would limit individual freedom.

Truth is, no one would need lobbyists if lawmakers had the gumption to quit creating laws that favor one group at the expense of another.

Six years is too long.

We recommend: Vote no.

AMENDMENT 13: Ends Dog Racing 

Phases out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering by 2020. Other gaming activities are not affected. 

This one brings to mind the 2002 amendment that banned confining pregnant pigs in certain types of enclosures.

The matter should have been addressed legislatively.

But like the pigs issue, banning dog racing will play on people’s emotions.

Just a thought: If we’re going ban dog racing in the constitution because of the perception that racing is bad for dogs, perhaps Floridians should consider banning high school, college and pro football. It’s bad for brains. 

Dog racing is waning. Rather than clutter Florida’s constitution with provisions on dogs and pigs, let the marketplace determine the future of the sport. Its declining economics most likely will bring it to an end.

We recommend: Vote no

Next: The local charter amendments.

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