Florida's Proposed Constitutional Amendments, Explained

 On Tuesday, Florida voters will wrestle with 12 proposed constitutional amendments. The proposed amendments cover a wide range of topics, from property taxes to victims' rights and even to gambling across the state. 

Some amendments are clear and straightforward, while others take some time to understand. Let's take a closer look at the proposed amendments.

Amendment 1: Homestead Exemption

Amendment 1 involves property taxes.

A homestead exemption is a reduction in the taxable value of a property, based on that property being the owner’s primary residence.

Florida homeowners currently receive a $50,000 reduction in the taxable value of their property, if the property is valued at $75,000 or more.

Amendment 1 would increase this $50,000 exemption by up to $25,000 for homes valued at more than $100,000.

The new exemption would result in a tax break of roughly $250 to $300 per year for these homeowners.

People with homes valued at $100,000 or less would not benefit from this amendment.

Amendment 2 – Property Tax Assessments

Amendment 2 deals with properties that don’t qualify for homestead exemption 

The value of these properties can only be increased by 10 percent annually, but this property tax cap is set to expire in January. Voting “yes” would make this threshold permanent. 

Voting no would allow it to expire and gives way for the threshold to be raised.

Amendment 3 – Voter Control of Gambling in Florida

Amendment 3 grants voters the right to approve of any casino gambling expansion in the state of Florida. 

Right now, establishing a casino mostly rests with the State Legislature. Voting “yes” on Amendment 3 would hand that right over to voters. Voting “no” would leave the authority to expand gambling with lawmakers in Tallahassee.

Amendment 4 – Restoring Felons Rights to Vote

Amendment 4 would restore voting rights to felons after they’ve served their time. As it stands right now, felons do not automatically have their right to vote restored after they’ve completed their sentence or probation. 

They must also wait at least five years before applying to have that right.

Florida would join 47 other states that automatically restore voting rights to felons (excluding those convicted of murder and sex crimes) if Amendment 4 passes.

Amendment 5 – Imposing, Authorizing and Raising State Taxes/Fees

Amendment 5 would make it harder for lawmakers to impose, authorize or raise taxes. Tax increases would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature. 

Amendment 6 – Rights for Crime Victims; Judges

Amendment 6 has three main components. 

The first would establish constitutional rights to victims of crimes, including the right to timely notification of legal proceedings; the right to be informed of the prison location where the accused is held; and the right to timely notification if and when the accused escapes or is released from prison.

The second component of Amendment 6, which is not related to the first, would raise the retirement age of state judges from 70 to 75. 

The third component would require judges to interpret laws themselves instead of relying on an interpretation from a state agency.

Amendment 7 – First Responder Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges

Amendment 7 also has more than one component. The first involves first responder and military member survivor benefits. The second involves the cost of public colleges and universities.

Under the first part of Amendment 7, if a first responder (i.e., police officers, firefighters, National Guard) or military member is killed in the line of duty, surviving family members would be eligible for death benefits from the state.

The second part of Amendment 7 would make it harder for board members of state-run universities to raise fees or impose new ones. 

It would require supermajority votes by university trustees and the state university system board of governors in order to do this.

Amendment 9 – Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Indoor Workplaces

Amendment 9 would bar offshore oil drilling in waters controlled by Florida and also prohibits the use of e-cigarettes at indoor workplaces. 

Environmentalists are largely in support of the amendment because of the offshore drilling ban.

A ban on indoor vaping is supported by those who believe e-cigarettes present their own series of health risks. The vaping ban would be in addition to the current ban on smoking in indoor workplaces.

Amendment 10 – State and Local Government of Structure and Operation

Amendment 10 would make it mandatory for all counties to elect a sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and Clerk of Circuit Court, rather than just having the county appoint them. 

The amendment would also change the date of legislative sessions in even-numbered years from March to January, as well as create an office of domestic security and counterterrorism within the department of law enforcement.

Amendment 11 – Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provisions

Amendment 11 is another bundled amendment. 

The first two provisions would eliminate discriminatory language related to property rights for non-US citizens, as well as delete a section concerning high-speed transportation that was already repealed in 2004.

The third provision could allow criminals to challenge their prosecutions if the statute they were convicted under was amended after they committed their crime.

Supporters say Amendment 11 is a good “clean-up” proposal and could potentially reduce the prison population, thus saving the state money. Opponents say the practical effects of Amendment 11 are yet to be known and are against the idea of bundling separate issues together in one amendment.

Amendment 12 – Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers

Amendment 12 expands ethics rules for elected officials and government employees. 

Under this amendment, officials would have to wait six years before they could lobby state government. 

The amendment also bars elected officials from using their status within office for private gain.

Amendment 13 – Ends Dog Racing

Amendment 13 would ban wagering on dog racing, specifically greyhounds, as of Dec. 31, 2020. 

“A person authorized to conduct gaming or pari-mutuel operations may not race greyhounds or any member of the Canis Familiaris subspecies in connection with any wager for money or any other thing of value in this state.” 

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