Tuesday, September 18, 2018

LWV analysis of proposed amendments to Florida Constitution

2018 Florida Constitutional Amendments

The League of Women Voters of Florida has conducted independent research on the pros and cons of all thirteen amendments that will be on the ballot in Novemeber. Here are some summaries of the meaning and impact of a yes or no vote on the amendments. For more details on the Amendments click here. 
For another view, see this separate analysis by the Tampa Bay Times 

Thirteen proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution are on the General Election ballot, nine more than appeared on the 2016 ballot. However, voters face more questions than is apparent.
That’s because Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), which convenes every 20 years, is allowed by law to bundle more than one issue into each question. An example of the CRC’s issue bundling in 2018 is Amendment 9, which asks voters to decide whether to ban offshore oil drilling, and whether to ban e-cigarettes at workplaces. Like the CRC’s other bundled amendments, voters cannot cast separate votes on drilling and vaping. These are all-or-nothing propositions.
Of the 13 amendments on this year’s ballot, eight were proposed by the CRC, three by the Florida Legislature and two by citizen initiative. To pass, each of them must receive at least 60 percent approval by voters. Unless otherwise indicated, changes to the Constitution take effect on Jan. 8, 2019.
Below are summaries of each amendment, including the impact of a yes or no vote.
Amendment 1
Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption
Grants an additional $25,000 homestead exemption for homes valued over $125,000. Owners of homes worth more than $100,000 would also receive an increase in their exemption.
A YES vote on Amendment 1 would:
Allow homeowners to deduct an additional $25,000 from the taxable value of a home worth more than $100,000, starting on Jan. 1, 2019.
Exclude local school taxes from the new exemption.
Cost Florida’s cities, counties and other taxing authorities an estimated $687.5 million annually, starting in 2019, according to the Florida Association of Counties.
Likely result in cuts to services or higher local rates to make up for the revenue losses, or possibly both.
A NO vote on Amendment 1 would:
Retain the current homestead tax exemptions, which total $50,000.
Have no effect on the amount of tax revenue collected by city and county governments.
Supporters: Unknown (Homesteaders, mayne??)
Opponents: Florida Association of Counties; Florida Education Association; Florida League of Cities; Florida Policy Institute; League of Women Voters of Florida; Progress Florida

Amendment 2
Limitations on Property Tax Assessments
Makes permanent what currently is a temporary cap of 10 percent on annual property value increases for vacation homes, apartments and commercial property, effectively limiting increases on tax bills.
A YES vote on Amendment 2 would:
Make permanent the 10 percent limit on increases in tax value for non-homestead property, thus reducing tax bills.
Continue to deny local governments (excluding school districts) tax revenue they would otherwise collect from rising property values.
A NO vote on Amendment 2 would:
End the practice of limiting tax increases on non-homestead property by limiting property-value increases to 10 percent.
Possibly lead to higher tax bills for non-homestead property, resulting in additional revenue to local governments of about $700 million, according to the state Revenue Estimating Conference.
Supporters: Florida Association of Realtors; Florida Chamber of Commerce; Florida TaxWatch
Opponents: Florida Education Association; League of Women Voters of Florida

Amendment 3
Voter Control of Gambling in Florida
Requires approval of any new casino gambling through a citizen-initiative constitutional amendment, effectively barring the Legislature from making those gambling decisions by passing laws.
A YES vote on Amendment 3 would:
Require that voters approve a constitutional amendment through citizen initiative to authorize any new casino gambling in Florida, essentially stripping that authority from the Legislature.
Preclude constitutional approval of casinos through other means, including amendments offered by the Legislature or by the CRC.
Continue to allow the Legislature to approve other types of non-casino gambling, such as poker rooms, bingo, lotteries and fantasy sports.
Allow the Legislature to oversee, regulate and tax any casino-type gambling that voters approve through a constitutional amendment.
Not affect the state’s ability to negotiate casino agreements with Native-American
A NO vote on Amendment 3 would:
Continue to allow casino gambling either through new laws passed by the Legislature or through various types of constitutional amendments.
Supporters: Disney Worldwide Services; Florida Chamber of Commerce; Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; League of Women Voters of Florida; No Casinos Inc.; Seminole Tribe of Florida
Opponents: Florida Education Association

Amendment 4
Voting Restoration Amendment
Allows those who have completed their entire sentence to earn the right to vote back except for those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses..
A YES vote on Amendment 4 would:
Grant felons – excluding those convicted of murder or felony sex crimes – the right to vote after completing all the terms of their sentence. The Governor’s Clemency Board studies have shown that recidivism rates drop about 30% if person has their voting rights restored. Another study shows that with a lower recidivism rate, costs of incarceration go down, employment goes up and that the positive impact on the Florida economy is $365 million per year.
A NO vote on Amendment 4 would:
Continue the current requirement that felons wait a minimum of five years before applying to have their voting rights restored, and then appear before the governor and Cabinet to appeal for those rights.
Continue allowing the governor and Cabinet sole authority to determine whether a felon is allowed to vote again.
Supporters: American Civil Liberties Union;Florida Rights Restoration Coalition; Floridians for a Fair Democracy; Florida Policy Institute; Florida Education Association; Florida National Organization for Women; League of Women Voters of Florida; Progress Florida
Opponents: Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy 

Amendment 5
Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees
Requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve any new or increased taxes or fees, rather than a simple majority.
A YES vote on Amendment 5 would:
Require a two-thirds vote by the state House and Senate to increase existing taxes and fees or impose new ones.
Require that any new or increased taxes or fees be voted on in stand-alone bills.
Exclude local governments from any supermajority requirements if they choose to raise taxes or fees.
A NO vote on Amendment 5 would:
Allow the Legislature to continue approving increased or new taxes and fees through a simple majority vote.
Allow the Legislature to continue bundling tax and fee increases with bills that include other measures.
Supporters: Florida TaxWatch; Florida Chamber of Commerce
Opponents: Florida Education Association; Florida Policy Institute; League of Women Voters of Florida; Progress Florida

Amendment 6
Rights of Crime Victims; Judges
Vastly expands the scope of victims rights under the state Constitution; increases the mandatory retirement age for judgesfrom 70 to 75; forces courts and judges to interpret laws and rules for themselves rather than rely on interpretations by government agencies.
A YES vote on Amendment 6 would:
Enshrine in the state Constitution an array of victims rights, many of which are currently in state law.
Place new time limits on filing appeals.
Require that victims receive some type of written notification of their rights.
Eliminate an existing constitutional provision that ensures victims’ rights don’t infringe on the rights of accused criminals.
Raise the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices and judges from 70 to 75.
Prohibit courts and judges from deferring to an administrative agency’s interpretation of state laws or rules when deciding cases.
A NO vote on Amendment 6 would:
Retain existing victims rights in the Constitution and in state law.
Keep the mandatory retirement ages for justices and judges at 70.
Continue allowing courts and judges to rely on state agencies’ interpretation of state laws and rules when deciding cases.
Supporters: 37 Florida sheriffs; Florida Smart Justice
Opponents: ACLU of Florida; Florida Education Association; Florida Public Defender Association; League of Women Voters of Florida

Amendment 7
First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities
Creates a supermajority requirement for universities to impose new or increase existing student fees; enshrines in the Constitution guidelines for the State College System; mandates that employers or the state pay a death benefit to first responders and members of the military killed in the line of duty.
A YES vote on Amendment 7 would:
Force universities’ boards of trustees and the state Board of Governors to get supermajority approval from their members toincrease student fees or impose new ones.
Make the governing framework for state colleges a part of the Constitution.
Create a constitutional requirement for state and local governments to pay death benefits to first responders.
Expand the definition of first responders under state law to include paramedics and emergency medical technicians.
Require the state to provide death benefits to members of the U.S. military who are either residents of Florida or who are stationed in the state.
Create an undetermined financial burden on local and state government from paying death benefits to a larger group of first responders and members of the military. The amendment does not specify a funding source for those payments.
A NO vote on Amendment 7 would:
Continue allowing universities to increase student fees or impose new ones with a simple majority of votes from governing bodies.
Exclude a governing framework for state colleges from the Constitution, while keeping it in state law.
Continue providing death benefits for first responders through state law rather than making it part of the Constitution.
Maintain the current definition of first responders eligible for death benefits, which excludes paramedics and emergency medical technicians.
Continue providing death benefits to the families of National Guardsmen who are killed in the line of duty, but not extend those benefits to the families of U.S. service members who live in Florida.
Supporters: Association of Florida Colleges
Opponents: Florida Education Association; League of Women Voters of Florida

Amendment 8  
NOTE: The Florida Supreme Court has removed Amendment 8 from the November 2018 Ballot, upholding the decision by a lower court.
School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools
Mandates term limits of eight years for all Florida school boards; allows the state to create public schools, something only local school boards currently can do; and requires schools to teach “civic literacy.”
 A YES vote on Amendment 8 would have:
Created constitutional term limits for all Florida school board members, who could serve no more than two consecutive four-year terms.
Allowed the Legislature to set up a state-run system for establishing and operating public schools, something only local school boards, elected by local communities, currently can do.
Created a constitutional requirement for civics education in public schools, something state law already requires in middle schools.
A NO vote on Amendment 8 would have:
Rejected term limits for school board members and allow voters to return board members to office as long as they get re-elected.
Kept local school boards as the sole authority for approving, operating and supervising public schools.
Rejected a constitutional mandate for civics education, which would not affect the current state law that requires middle schools to teach students about the U.S. Constitution and other governing documents and institutions.
Supporters: U.S.. Term Limits
Opponents: Florida School Boards Association; Florida Policy Institute; Florida Education Association; Florida National Organization for Women; League of Women Voters of Florida; Progress Florida

Amendment 9
Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces Prohibits oil drilling beneath waters controlled by Florida; prohibits the use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, at indoor workplaces.
 A YES vote on Amendment 9 would:
Enshrine in the Constitution a ban on oil and gas drilling beneath Florida state waters. Exempt shipments of oil and gas on Florida’s waters.   Apply constitutional restrictions to drilling only to waters under state control, not to waters under federal control. Add new restrictions to the Constitution on the use of electronic vaping devices, largely mirroring current constitutional restrictions on indoor workplace smoking. Create exceptions to the vaping restrictions in homes, bars, vaping retailers and hotel rooms designated for vaping. Allow local governments to pass stricter regulations on the use of vaping devices.
A NO vote on Amendment 9 would:
Allow Florida legislators to change the current law that bans offshore drilling in state-controlled waters.
Leave any such vaping restrictions to the discretion of the state Legislature.
Supporters: Florida Wildlife Federation; Gulf Restoration Network; American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; League of Women Voters of Florida; Florida Policy Institute; Progress Florida
Opponents: Florida Petroleum Council; Associated Industries of Florida; Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association; Florida Education Association; Florida Chamber of Commerce

Amendment 10
State and Local Government Structure and Operation
Requires the Legislature to hold its session in early January on even-numbered years; creates an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; mandates the existence of a state Department of Veterans’ Affairs; forces all counties to elect a sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and Clerk of Circuit Court.
A YES vote on Amendment 10 would:
Fix the date for state legislative sessions in even-numbered years as the second Tuesday in January.
Create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and establish it as the lead agency in terrorism investigations and responses.
Force the Legislature to always have a Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Force all of Florida’s counties, even those with a charter, to hold elections for all five local constitutional offices found in the state Constitution – sheriff, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, tax collector and clerk of the circuit court.
A NO vote on Amendment 10 would:
Continue allowing the Legislature to set a start date for its lawmaking session in even-numbered years.
Reject a constitutionally mandated Office of Security and Counterterrorism under the FDLE.
Reject a constitutionally mandated Department of Veterans’ Affairs, allowing the Legislature to determine if Florida should have such a department (which it currently does).
Allow Florida’s charter counties to continue determining the duties of five county offices identified in the state Constitution, andwhether those offices should be elected posts.
Supporters: Florida’s 66 elected Sheriffs, and Florida’s elected Tax Collectors, Clerks of the Courts, and the Property Appraisers.
Opponents: Florida Education Association; League of Women Voters of Florida

Amendment 11
Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes
Repeals the state’s ability to prohibit non-citizens from buying, owning and selling property; deletes a provision that forces the state to prosecute criminal suspects under the law they were originally charged under, even if the Legislature changes that law;deletes obsolete language having to do with high-speed rail in Florida.
A YES vote on Amendment 11 would:
Repeal a nearly century-old provision that allows the Legislature to restrict the property rights of non-citizens.
Deletes language that requires criminal suspects to be prosecuted under the provisions of the law they’re accused of breaking, even if that law is changed by the Legislature. Keeps language that requires prosecution if the law is repealed.
Deletes a section of the Constitution – concerning high-speed transportation – that was repealed by voters in 2004. The language, however, was not removed.
A NO vote on Amendment 11 would:
Continue to allow the Legislature to pass laws restricting the property rights of non-citizens.
Continue to mandate that criminal suspects (would be) prosecuted under the law they’re accused of breaking even if the state changes that law.
Retain a section of the Constitution about high-speed transportation even though voters repealed that section in 2004.
Supporters: Florida Chamber of Commerce
Opponents: Florida Education Association

Amendment 12 
Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers
Expands ethics rules for elected officials and government employees, notably by expanding from two to six years the time that many officials would have to wait before they could lobby state government.
 A YES vote on Amendment 12 would:
Extend the ban on state lobbying by legislators and statewide elected officials from two to six years.
Prohibit legislators and statewide elected officials from lobbying federal and local government agencies while in office.
Prohibit top state agency employees from any lobbying while working for the state and from lobbying state government for six years after leaving their job.
Prohibit local elected officials from getting paid to lobby anyone while in office and from lobbying their own governing body for six years after leaving office.
Prohibit judges from lobbying any branch of state government for six years after leaving the bench.
Prohibit any elected official or public employee from using his or her position to gain a “disproportionate benefit,” a term to be defined by the state Ethics Commission.
A NO vote on Amendment 12 would:
Keep in place the current constitutional restrictions on lobbying by sitting and former government officials.
Supporters: Common Cause; Florida Policy Institute; Integrity Florida
Opponents: Florida Chamber of Commerce; Florida Education Association

Amendment 13  Dog Racing
Bans wagering on any type of dog racing, notably greyhounds, as of Dec. 31, 2020, while continuing to allow dog tracks to continue offering other types of gambling, including poker rooms.
 A YES vote on Amendment 13 would:
Ban all dog racing in Florida by Dec. 31, 2020, while allowing tracks to continue operating card rooms and slot machines.

Result in a loss of about $1 million in taxes and fees.
A NO vote on Amendment 13 would:
Continue to allow wagering on dog racing in Florida.
Supporters: Grey2K USA; League of Women Voters of Florida
Opponents: Florida Greyhound Association; Florida Education Association; Florida Chamber of Commerce

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Three perspectives on the public realm

1. A consultant's recommendation to put an 80,000-square-foot industrial facility on public land a short walk from the Celery Fields will go to the Board of County Commissioners for discussion on Oct. 10. If the Board sees fit, the Lambert recommendation for rezoning Quad Parcel #3 could begin the public review process soon after. For the present, the Quad parcels at Apex Road and Palmer Boulevard remain in public hands.

Paley Park, NYC

2. A distinguished city planner talks about why she believes in the human importance of planning successful public spaces. "Communities can tell whether or not you understand their neighborhood," says Amanda Burden. "It's not something you can just fake."

3. Two long time citizen advocates urge a NO vote on a county-initiated amendment on the November ballot that would make it much more difficult in the future for voters to gather enough signatures to place a citizen-initiated Charter amendment on the ballot.

Please share this with your networks - our public lands, public spaces, and public voices are now at risk.

Consultant recommendation for Industry at Celery Fields goes on Board Agenda

County emails show that county staff has been working assiduously with Lambert Advisory, the consultant that recommended an 80,000 s.f. industrial facility as "highest and best use" of Quad parcel #3.

County staff has apparently accepted Lambert's recommendation to rezone parcel #3 for industrial uses, and the Lambert recommendation has been placed on the Board's agenda as a discussion item for Oct. 10.

If the Board approves, the recommendation to rezone parcel #3 for industry will go through the public process - neighborhood workshop, planning  commission, and final Board hearing. Fresh Start will attempt to keep the public advised.

A copy of the Lambert Report is here.

Fresh Start has noted that the instigation to hire a consultant to rezone parcel #3 came from Commissioner Al Maio. Two of the strongest supporters of industry for the Quad parcels #2 and #3 are James Gabbert and Robert Waechter. The Lambert assessment and follow-up rezoning could cost taxpayers as much as $61,290.

James Gabbert
Gabbert's proposal for a large open demolition waste crushing plant on parcel #2 caused a large public outcry in 2017, and it was defeated, 3-2 at the final public hearing 8.23.17. Commissioners Maio and Moran voted for Gabbert's proposed waste plant. Gabbert is still seeking to build a waste transfer operation on 6 acres immediately to the west of parcel #2 at Porter Rd. and Palmer Blvd.

Waechter, who owns several warehouses immediately to the south of parcel #2, has opposed the citizens' effort to keep the Quad parcels, which are public lands, from being sold to private industrial developers. At the Fresh Start presentation on 9.12.18, Waechter argued that as the area is already overridden with large semi-trucks, it should have more industry, not less.

Fresh Start, a citizens' group seeking alternative public uses for the Quad parcels, has noted several concerns with the Lambert Advisory recommendation:
  1. Commissioner Maio's initial reason for hiring the consultant for rezone was an alleged budget shortfall. He now says there are no shortfalls and that the County is in excellent fiscal condition.
  2. Lambert's methodology was skewed toward selling public land: it looked only at sales price, not at compatibility, community concerns, or trends of eco-tourism and residential development in the immediate area, approved by the County.
  3. If parcel #3 is rezoned for industry, it's likely that parcel #2 will follow.
  4. With rapid County approvals for over 22,000 acres of new housing development in East Sarasota, the additional population will need open space, parks, athletic facilities. The 30 acres of public lands at the quads are perfect for such use.
  5. Public lands should be used for beneficial public use, not be sold when they will only profit private industrial owners.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Public space can shape the soul of a city

Amanda Burden, a famed city planner who contributed to Manhattan's High Line, talks about the value and importance of public spaces as well as the happiness bestowed by them.

"Public spaces have power," says Burden. "A successful city is like a fabulous party -- people stay because they are having a great time."

The trick, she notes, is to get outside the compulsion of the developer profit motive, and make the most of opportunities for the common good.

"Communities can tell whether or not you understand their neighborhood," she says. "It's not something you can just fake."

To make successful public spaces, more than professional skills are necessary.

"You don't tap into your design expertise," says Burden. "You tap into your humanity."

Friday, September 14, 2018

Vote "NO" on Amendment that will muzzle citizen petitons

From Bill Zoller -- offering some background and introducing a concern voiced by Pat Rounds:

Pat has spotlighted one of the most important items that will be on the November 6 ballot: the County’s determination to make it nearly impossible for Sarasota citizens to put a charter amendment on the ballot through the citizen-petition process. 
Get your muzzle here
Having been through the process as is now permitted by the charter, I can tell you that gathering petitions from 5% of the voters registered in Sarasota County is an arduous process. Back in 2005-2008, it took a dedicated group (Citizens for Sensible Growth [CSG]) between 2 and 3 years to get the required 12,525 petitions. Now, because the population has increased, even with the 5% requirement, it takes around 15,000 petitions.
This is one of the worst proposals ever put forward by the BCC, and it must be roundly and soundly defeated. When the BCC refused, some years ago, to establish a recycling program, one woman led an effort to get a charter amendment on the ballot, and as a result, Sarasota was forced to establish our recycling program. The CSG amendments (2) now require a super-majority of the BCC (4 of 5) to adopt Comprehensive Plan amendments that would increase density or intensity, and a unanimous vote to move the Urban Services Area Boundary to increase that area. They also closed a loophole that allowed overlay districts to breech the Urban Services Boundary.
All of these amendments were opposed by our elected representatives who like to assure us that they “know what is best for us.” They do not. 
Please read Pat’s information below, and please help to spread the word that we must defeat this very bad amendment.

From Pat Rounds:
Hi All,
As residents who care deeply about our County and the value of our Home Rule Charter, the County Commission has mounted an 11th hour attempt which could render the Citizen-initiated Amendment process meaningless.  See comments below, followed by the ballot language on ordinance appearing on the November ballot. 
If you agree that this amendment could greatly damage home rule, please forward my comments to your distribution lists and urge your friends to do the same. 
Let me know if a more formal plan should be pursued to defeat this amendment.  If so, I'll arrange a strategy meeting to maximize voter outreach in the time remaining before Election Day.  
(For your background review, attached is the County's rationale, summary and ballot language. That a few other charter counties have a 10% petition signature requirement is not a valid reason to change our Charter.  In addition, while citizen petition amendments would have to appear on general election ballots, the Commission would retain the option to hold a special election 60 days after approving an ordinance.) 
Please let me know if you have any questions. Your feedback is appreciated.
Pat Rounds

To Sarasota County voters:  We are fortunate to have a Home Rule Charter in Sarasota County. 
It begins as follows, "We, the People of Sarasota County, hereby ...adopt this Home Rule Charter."  
Like the US Constitution, our County Charter has been amended over time. Charter amendments can be proposed in several ways, including by County Commission ordinance and by citizen-initiated petition efforts.  County voters ultimately decide the merits of Charter amendments by county-wide referendum.  For instance, Sarasota County has voted by paper ballot since 2007 because citizens collected enough valid voter signatures to put the issue on the ballot in the 2006 General Election.  County residents voted overwhelmingly to support verified voting, and now the entire State of Florida votes by paper ballot. This happened despite the failed efforts of our County Commission to keep the Paper Ballot referendum from reaching the voters. 
Now our County Commission is determined to render the "Amendment by Citizen Petition" process virtually meaningless.   
At the eleventh hour on August 29th, with little public discussion or input--the Commission put a referendum on the ballot by ordinance---with "a snap of their fingers". Currently petitioners must gather valid signatures from 5% of county voters (approx. 15,000 petitions).  
It generally has taken two years or more to meet that 5% goal---through much perseverance, not with a "finger snap".  This amendment would make it more even more difficult for county residents to put amendments on the ballot through petition initiative.   
The County Commission's ballot amendment could greatly harm Home Rule by:
  • Doubling the number of petitions required to place an amendment on the ballot (from 5% to 10%, or over 30,000 valid voter signatures). 
  • Greatly limiting the time allowed to collect petitions (a maximum 18-month window between general election cycles).
  • Requiring petitions to be submitted early in the general election year---6 months before Election Day.  
  • Requiring petition initiatives to be on a general election ballot while the Commission would retain the option to hold a special election 60 days after approving an ordinance.
In addition, the wording of this Commission-generated Question One seems misleading. While a general election cycle is 24 months, petition signatures must be collected and submitted by May 1st of the general election year (i.e., 6 months before the next general election is held). The ballot wording may create an impression that citizens have 2 years to reach their petition goal. The "set general election cycle timeframe" is not clarified, and left for the voter to define.   
See Question One below.   
For the sake of home rule in Sarasota County, Vote NO! on this misguided County Commission ordinance.  

                                                                    (Sarasota County Charter Amendment
                                                             placed on the November/2018 General Election ballot
                                                                    by the Sarasota County Commission
                                                                        per hearing held August 29, 2018)


Shall Sarasota County Charter Section 7.1 be amended to place citizen-initiated Charter amendments on the next general election ballot upon receiving signatures from 10% of registered voters, provided that signatures are gathered within a set general election cycle timeframe, instead of having an unlimited time to obtain signatures of 5% of registered voters for placement of citizen-initiated amendments on a special election ballot that is held 60 days after certification of the signatures?

_____YES, for the Charter amendment
_____NO, against the Charter amendment