Mind-bending Amendments

Long lines are expected at polling places in Clay, Duval, St. Johns and Nassau counties while voters read some 2,000 words on 11 state questions dealing with health care insurance, tax and revenue issues, abortions and religious freedoms.

The Republican-controlled Legislature placed each of the 11 amendments, which require a 60 percent vote for approval, on the Nov. 6 ballot. There are no citizen initiatives on the ballot.

The Florida League of Women Voters is recommending a “no” vote on all 11. The non-partisan organization contends that approval of the amendments — some of which are likely to be found unconstitutional — will cost millions in tax dollars for city and county governments.

“There are five amendments on the ballot that address reductions in local property taxes. If all five were to pass, local governments would lose more than $1 billion over the first three years of implementation,” a League statement said. There are concerns that the lost revenue could result in cuts to education, public services and public safety.

Here are some of the arguments for and against the 11 amendments:

Amendment 1: Health Care Services

This symbolic amendment gives Florida the right to opt out of federal health care reform. Called Obamacare by its detractors, the act was found to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The League of Women Voters of Florida supports the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in Florida, emphasizing access for all and control of costs. In addition, Amendment 1, if passed, could conflict with federal law and thus be deemed unconstitutional.”

Amendment 1, backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, “is more of a political referendum than a meaningful change to the Constitution,” the League noted in its Election & Voter Guide.

Amendment 2: Combat-Injured Veterans,

Property Tax Discount

It expands the homestead exemption to all disabled veterans who were not Florida residents when they entered military service. If approved, it could cost local governments $15 million over the first three years of implementation, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Amendment 3: State Government

Revenue Limitation

This replaces the existing state revenue limitation based on Florida personal income growth with a new state revenue limitation based on population changes and inflation. Colorado passed similar legislation about 20 years ago, and it has hurt the state’s ability to fund essential public services, the League said. The main supporter of the amendment is state Senate president and republican Mike Haridopolos; the AARP opposes it.

Amendment 4: Property Tax Limitation

One of the biggest fights is over Amendment 4, which could result in city and county governments losing $1.7 billion in property tax revenue over four years.

Supporting the amendment are the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Realtors and Associated Industries of Florida, who cite a Florida TaxWatch study, which claims passage of the proposal would increase the state’s economy and generate 19,500 jobs over 10 years.

If approved, the amendment would reduce the maximum annual increase in assessed value on certain non-homesteaded properties from 10 percent to 5 percent; give first-time homebuyers an additional homestead exemption of half the appraised value of their home, up to $150,000; and allow the Legislature to prohibit increases in the assessed value of homestead property and certain other non-homestead property in any year where the market value of the property decreases, according to a review by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Opposing Amendment 4 is the Florida Association of Counties, which predicts the amendment will squeeze local governments that are already cutting services.

Amendment 5: State Courts

Amendment 5 gives the Florida Senate the right to confirm appointments of state Supreme Court justices and gives lawmakers control of the rules governing the court system. The Florida Chamber of Commerce backs the bill.

Wayne Ezell, a columnist for The Florida Times-Union, called the efforts “a blatantly obvious attempt to politicize and neuter the Florida Supreme Court and the rest of Florida’s judiciary.”

Amendment 6: Prohibitions on Public Funding of Abortions

Abortion is another hot-button topic, and Amendment 6 provides that public funds may not be spent for any abortion or for health-benefits coverage that includes an abortion. The proposal also provides that the State Constitution may not be interpreted to create broader rights to an abortion than those contained in the U.S. Constitution.

In opposing the amendment, “The League believes that public policy in a pluralistic society must affirm the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices.”

This one also has its backers. Catholic Bishop Felipe Estevez, in a letter read at each Mass on Sept. 24, asked Catholics in the 17-county Diocese of Saint Augustine to vote “yes” on Amendment 6, which will limit use of public funding for abortion, and on Amendment 8, which will limit the ban on spending public money on religious organizations.

A group called “Vote No on 6” said the proposed amendment would allow politicians to interfere with a woman’s right to make decisions about her own reproductive health, said Judy Selzer, the campaign manager, in a news release.

Amendment 7: There is no Amendment 7.

It was stricken by a judge and replaced by Amendment 8.

Amendment 8: Religious Freedom

The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy said Amendment 8 is “confusing and unclear” and could result in a universal public voucher program and cost public education budget between $3.7 billion to $6.5 billion a year.

If approved, it would change a provision of the state Constitution, which has been in effect since 1885, guaranteeing the separation of church and state, said Alan Stonecipher, communications director for the center.

Placing the item on the ballot was “an attempt by proponents to eliminate the constitutional obstacle to the use of public tax dollars to pay tuition for private and religious schools,” he said.

Juan Zapata, president of Citizens for Religious Freedom and Non-Discrimination, said the amendment would ensure continued delivery of vital community services by religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations.

Amendment 9: Homestead Property Tax Exemption for Surviving Spouse of Military Veteran or First Responder

This is another one that could cost local governments $1.8 million over three years. It would grant full homestead property tax relief to the surviving spouses of military veterans and first responders killed in the line of duty. The measure unanimously passed the Florida House and Senate.

Amendment 10: Tangible Personal Property

Tax Exemption

This legislature-approved amendment, affecting about 150,000 businesses, pertains to equipment or furniture used in a business. Currently, only the first $25,000 of tangible personal property is exempt from taxation. If approved, the amendment would raise that amount to $50,000. The League of Women Voters estimates the change would cost local governments $61 million over three years.

Amendment 11: Additional Homestead Exemption for Low-Income Seniors

This amendment provides an additional homestead exemption for low-income seniors who have lived in their homes at least 25 years. It’s estimated it would cost local governments $27.8 million over three years. The measure passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

Amendment 12: Appointment of Student Board President to Board of Governors of State University System

This provision would change the student member in the 17-member Board of Governors. Currently, the Florida Student Association president is a member. Amendment 12 would create a new council composed of student body presidents; that group’s chair would become the student representative on the Board of Governors. Florida State University, which does not participate in the student association, has been lobbying for the change.

Ron Word