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The 2018 Florida Amendments, what they actually mean and what we recommend 

On the ballot this year are 12 amendments that would fundamentally alter our state constitution and, in one case, directly affect at least 1.5 million Floridians.

Orlando Weekly compiled this amendment guide to help keep this sometimes confusing process in order – to help you be an informed voter. We’ve included our recommendations (which admittedly lean towards progressive interests.) But everyone in Florida, even those we fundamentally disagree with, should vote. With our democracy being challenged daily, it’s important to let your voice be heard.

Early voting in Orange County runs daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Sunday, Nov. 4, at 16 voter locations, including a new polling spot at the University of Central Florida. Find all locations at ocfelections.com.

On Election Day, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6, and you are required to vote in the polling place assigned to the precinct where you live (which you can find on your voter registration card or ocfelections.com). Bring photo identification with a signature, such as a driver's license, or you will have to vote with a provisional ballot. Take this guide with you to the voting booth if you need it. Happy voting. Again, no pressure.

Check out our recommendations for Orange County candidates here. Plus, we have a compact voting guide you can take with you to the booth! 

AMENDMENTS:

Note: All amendments need 60 percent of voter approval to pass.

Amendment 1

This ballot proposal from the Florida Legislature reels in voters with the prospect of reducing their taxes, but at what cost?

Currently, homeowners get a couple of exemptions to reduce their property bills. The first homestead exemption from all taxes is on the initial $25,000 of assessed value on a property. The second is an additional $25,000 exemption for homestead properties assessed between $50,000 and $75,000 from all taxes other than school district taxes. Amendment 1 would allow an additional $25,000 homestead tax exemption for properties valued between $100,000 and $125,000. School taxes, again, would be exempt from this measure. If passed, anyone with a home valued over $125,000 can get about $75,000 worth of exemptions, the League of Women Voters of Florida argues.

Homeowners and their wallets would probably appreciate the estimated $250 drop in their tax bills. But municipal city and county governments will suffer. They have to absorb the hit of this tax cut to their revenue sources for local services like police officers, firefighters and libraries – to the tune of a $752.7 million fiscal impact in the first year, according to the Florida Association of Counties. And when backed into a corner, local governments will usually cut services or raise millage rates – so choose wisely.

We recommend: No

Amendment 2

Here’s another tax-cut special proposed by Florida lawmakers that could have deeper fiscal consequences. This ballot proposal makes permanent an existing property- tax assessment cap on “non-homestead properties,” which includes second homes, apartments, office buildings, shopping centers and other commercial properties. The cap, which expires in 2019 unless this amendment passes, limits increases to the assessed value of a property to no more than 10 percent in a single year. For example, if the property value of a vacation home suddenly jumps 30 percent in a year because more theme parks have been built nearby, the owner would only pay 10 percent of the increase on the tax bill.

Supporters say Amendment 2 is good for property owners and rejecting it would cause a substantial tax increase that could have serious impacts by “decreasing disposable income, increasing rents and business costs, and exacerbating and perpetuating the existing inequities of Florida’s property tax system,” Florida TaxWatch says. Opponents, though, argue the cap hurts local governments who would benefit from the revenue of increasing properties within their boundaries. The additional funds for Florida municipalities would be an estimated $688 million, according to the Revenue Estimating Conference.

We recommend: No

Amendment 3

The question at the heart of Amendment 3: Who deserves to authorize the expansion of casino gambling in Florida – state lawmakers or citizens? The choice: Vote yes if you feel as though citizens ultimately deserve the final say, or vote no if you prefer to leave the decision to lawmakers.

The Florida Legislature isn’t fond of Amendment 3, and neither are some gambling lobbyists and the gaming industry. They’re worried that if the amendment passes, its supporters – the League of Women Voters, Disney, the Seminole Tribe (the latter two of which have contributed millions to the cause) – would then have to go through the heavy lifting of getting 60 percent of the public to approve a gambling expansion when the measure comes up on a future ballot. After all, Florida and its constituents aren’t the most politically predictable, and voters may nix the measure if given the chance.

So there’s nuance to Amendment 3, because gambling isn’t a vice of everyone’s choice. It boils down to who you trust more to enact responsible gambling laws in Florida – the state Legislature or, figuratively speaking, your neighbors?

The Florida Legislature isn’t fond of Amendment 3, and neither are some gambling lobbyists and the gaming industry. They’re worried that if the amendment passes, its supporters – the League of Women Voters, Disney, the Seminole Tribe (the latter two of which have contributed millions to the cause) – would then have to go through the heavy lifting of getting 60 percent of the public to approve a gambling expansion when the measure comes up on a future ballot. After all, Florida and its constituents aren’t the most politically predictable, and voters may nix the measure if given the chance.

So there’s nuance to Amendment 3, because gambling isn’t a vice of everyone’s choice. It boils down to whom do you trust more to enact responsible gambling laws in Florida – the state Legislature or, figuratively speaking, your neighbors?

We recommend: Yes

Amendment 4

Florida is one of only three states in the country that does not automatically restore the voting rights of felons who’ve completed their sentences – instead, the state has disenfranchised more than a million residents. The draconian law has racist roots in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow era, when recently emancipated African Americans were disproportionately jailed for crimes (including loitering), sentenced to labor and kept from the polls.

Currently, ex-felons who want their voting rights back have to wait at least five years before they can ask to have their rights restored, and then must be judged before the clemency board run by Gov. Scott and his Cabinet. But the board meets quarterly to hear fewer than 100 cases, creating a backlog of about 10,000 cases. Despite a federal judge striking down the process as an unconstitutional and nonsensical scheme, Scott and his cabinet have refused to fix the problem.

Amendment 4 would automaticallyrestore the voting rights of about 1.5 million people convicted of felonies who’ve completed their sentences, excluding those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. But Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, argues the ballot proposal also “perpetuates the discrimination and bigotry of disenfranchisement against a subclass of ex-felons – those convicted of murder or sex crimes,” and would enshrine that distinction permanently in the constitution.

Still, Amendment 4 is an improvement over Florida’s current law and would make our democratic process a fairer, more equal one.

We recommend: Yes

Amendment 5

Before voting for or against Amendment 5, ask yourself this: Should it be more difficult for the state to raise taxes than it is to cut them?

If approved, Amendment 5 would tinker with the mechanics of the state Legislature by requiring a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate in order to create new taxes or to hike existing ones. For now, Florida requires a simple majority from each chamber.

Lower taxes! Oh, boy! Liberty! ... We get it. We like our hard-earned money just as much as the rest of you. But there’s a catch: Lower taxes means the state is raising less money to do things such as, say, funding public education or environmental programs, or even provide funds to emergency services if disaster were to strike in a state where hurricanes are practically omnipresent through half the year.

State lawmakers haven’t raised taxes since 2009, when the 2008 recession prompted a vote to increase the tax on tobacco products by $1 and raised driver’s license fees. So should we make it harder to do so, even if worse may someday come to worst?

We recommend: No

Amendment 6

Known as “Marsy’s Law,” Amendment 6 would expand the rights of crime victims in the judicial system to be protected from the accused, to be notified promptly of court dates and to have their input considered at all proceedings where “a right of the victim is implicated,” including the clemency process.

This ballot proposal is one of the so-called “bundled” amendments because it also includes some terms that have nothing to do with victims’ rights, including raising the mandatory retirement age for Florida judges from 70 to 75 and forcing judges to decide if a state agency interpreted a law correctly before ruling on a case, instead of the current practice of deferring to the agency.

Opponents, though, have pointed out a number of troubling aspects in Marsy’s Law. For one, Florida already has state laws protecting crime victims with the provision that those rights don’t “interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.” The amendment deletes this line – and could upset the balance between the two. The term “victim” would be expanded to include those who suffer “financial harm,” and the ACLU of Florida argues this would give corporations the right to inject themselves into criminal proceedings for even relatively minor crimes like shoplifting.

Marsy’s Law may be well-intentioned, but it ultimately comes way too close to messing with the constitutionally protected rights of people who haven’t yet been found guilty.

We recommend: No

Amendment 7

Trust us when we say Amendment 7 is the epitome of a mixed bag. Approval would do three things: It would enable surviving family members of Florida- based military members and additional first responders (firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement, probation officers, etc.) killed in the line of duty to receive death benefits; additionally, surviving family members would also have educational costs waived. It would require nine votes out of a university board of 13 trustees to raise any fee, not including tuition. And it would also establish the existing state college system as a constitutional entity, while providing a governing structure.

Sure, by requiring a higher threshold to increase fees for students, the costs ofattending a university could be kept at a reasonable level – books and transportation on campus could potentially be cheaper. Yet it could also be argued that the other proposals within the measure provide too much authority to too small of a group of individuals to prevent fee raises, which could actually hurt universities, in that they wouldn’t be able to afford certain services.

We recommend: No

Amendment 9

Arguably the least complicated of the “bundled” amendments, a vote in favor of Amendment 9 would prohibit oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coast (but not in federal waters, which extend slightly farther), while also prohibiting vaping (as in no e-cigarette smoking) in workplaces and public spaces.

It’s not the worst case of give and take, right? As the Trump administration has awkwardly pushed to open state waters back up to the oil and gas drilling industry, and as an existing moratorium on installing drilling rigs near Florida’s coast expires in 2022, Amendment 9 seems like the best line of defense against the threat of such backwards environmental policy. The price: Your vaping habit will have to be taken outside (or into the office bathroom).

Really, the vaping ban would just be an inevitable follow-up to Florida’s 2002 law that banned tobacco smoking in workplaces and in most indoor public spaces. If Amendment 9 were to pass, the state Legislature would then be required to pass vaping restrictions effective July 1, 2019.

We recommend: Yes

Amendment 10

Four unrelated topics join to form one mouthful of a bundled ballot proposal known as the “State and Local Government Structure Amendment.”

The first would force the state’s 60-day legislative session to begin in January rather than March during even-numbered years (currently, Florida lawmakers make that decision). The second and third require the state to create a domestic security and counterterrorism office within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, as well as a state Department of Veterans Affairs (both of which already exist).

Finally, Amendment 10 mandates elections for certain local offices, including sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and clerk of the circuit court, and stops counties from abolishing these offices.

Proponents say this amendment returns power to hold officials accountable to the voters. But those against argue it’s an effort to insert politicians into critical county offices and restrict local control, especially in Miami-Dade County, where officials appoint a police director instead of electing a sheriff.

We recommend: No

Amendment 11

Florida’s ballot has yet another bundled amendment, though this one is also usually described as a “housekeeping” proposal.

Amendment 11 removes discriminatory language from the state constitution that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship,” known today as non-citizens, from buying, owning or selling property. The language is a remnant from when the nation wanted to keep Asian farmers from owning land during the early part of the 20th century, but it was reportedly never enforced in Florida.

The proposal also removes obsolete language regarding a high-speed railway being built across the state that voters approved in 2000 and later overturned in 2004.

Perhaps most important, Amendment 11 deletes a constitutional provision known as the “Savings Clause” that bars any changes to a criminal statue being applied retroactively. If, for example, Florida lawmakers decide to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, those new rules could apply to people convicted before the law was changed.

The National Rifle Association supports this clause, presumably hoping that revisions to the “Stand Your Ground” law can be applied retroactively to old cases. But the ACLU of Florida also supports the amendment, arguing that “reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing or drug policy reform could apply to people currently serving under sentences that the legislature no longer believes are fair.”

We recommend: Yes

Amendment 12

Amendment 12 – yes, you guessed it, another bundled measure – would attempt to minimize certain crooked activity among former politicians turned lobbyists.

It would require elected officials, including former judges and justices, to be out of office for at least six years before they’re permitted to lobby the state’s legislative and executive branches. Currently, former elected officials are required to undergo a two-year waiting period, which isn’t a long time in the world of political special interests.

Amendment 12 would also establish a solid definition of “public officer” to include any statewide elected officer, Legislature member, county commissioner and school board member, among other governing positions. Going further, it would prohibit those same public officers or their employees from using their positions to “disproportionately benefit” themselves, their families or businesses. And it would ban elected officials from lobbying a political agency or governing body on all policy matters.

So Amendment 12’s purpose is to nix the buddy system among former elected officials turned lobbyists and their former colleagues. Those who’ve made the jump to the private sector have a way of hustling votes, while also shoring up elected officials’ responsibilities to the public, and not to the private sector. It’s not a tall ask.

We recommend: Yes

Amendment 13

For starters, how do you feel about greyhound racing? Do you find the sport to be cruel and outdated, as it’s lagged in popularity in recent years? Or do you not have a problem with it, even if state investigators have tested racing greyhounds positive for cocaine and steroids, among other illegal substances?

If approved, Amendment 13 would ban greyhound racing by 2020, effectively shuttering the sport at 11 dog tracks across Florida – the K-9 racing capital of the U.S., where there are more tracks than the rest of the country combined. The amendment would also allow track owners to keep their gambling permits if they halt the sport by 2019. That means the former dog tracks could still operate as, say, card or slot rooms, which brings in the bulk of the businesses’ money anyway.

With the passage of Amendment 13, Florida would fall in step with 40 other states that have outlawed dog racing. The nonprofit greyhound advocacy group Grey2K USA Worldwide estimates that there are currently about 8,000 greyhounds in the Sunshine State, some of which live in stacked cages just tall enough for them stand up straight in, in which they’re confined for 20 to 23 hours a day.

We recommend: Yes

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