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Questions About Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot? Here's Some Help

The James Madison Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, has created a user-friendly guide to help voters prepare.

Baffled by all of the constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot?

You probably aren't alone.

So the nonprofit, nonpartisan James Madison Institute has come to the rescue.

As a service to Florida voters, the institute has released a special edition of The Journal of The James Madison Institute that analyzes the 11 constitutional amendments on the 2012 ballot sent to voters by the Florida Legislature.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to offer background and recommendations for Floridians to help better prepare them for what they’ll see on the ballot,” said Dr. J. Robert McClure, JMI president and CEO.

"It’s easy for campaign noise to distract from the discussion on state constitutional amendments, thus we anticipate Floridians will use this comprehensive, user-friendly guide as a refresher or to get up to speed," said McClure.

For each amendment, The Journal Special Edition 2012 Voters’ Guide includes the specific language used on the ballot, a breakdown of each amendment and a pro/con analysis.

“As a result of the passage of the 2006 ballot amendment requiring that future proposed amendments receive at least 60 percent of the vote, it’s possible that this batch of amendments may face more of a struggle to pass,” said Robert Sanchez, director of policy for the institute. “Several of these amendments are extremely important to Florida’s future, and we hope this service to Floridians will help reignite the conversation and encourage an informed vote.”

PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

Amendment 1, Health Insurance -- This amendment prohibits laws or rules compelling anyone to buy health insurance.

Amendment 2, Veterans Tax Relief -- About 74,000 veterans disabled in combat would qualify for the property tax break prorated based on their percentage of disability.

Amendment 3, State Budget Spending Limit -- The amendment limits the growth in state government spending to no more than the rate of inflation and population growth instead of the current cap, which is based on growth in personal income.

Amendment 4, Property Tax Exemption -- This amendment includes several elements. One caps the rate of increase in the valuation of non-homestead property such as businesses and rental properties. Another deals with a situation caused by the "recapture rule" under which the assessed (taxable) value of a homestead property may increase even if its actual market value has declined. The third provision provides new homebuyers with a large additional homestead exemption that is gradually phased out.

Amendment 5, Judicial Reform -- This amendment's main features include Senate confirmation of the governor's nominees to fill vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court, plus additional legislative oversight over the judicial rules under which our state's courts operate.

Amendment 6, Abortion Funding -- This amendment prohibits the use of public funds for abortions.

Amendment 7, Withdrawn -- The Florida Supreme Court removed this amendment on the grounds that some of the language in the ballot summary may have been misleading to voters.

Amendment 8, Permissable Uses of Public Funds -- This amendment would remove a current provision in the state Constitution in order to allow faith-based entitiies to receive public funds.

Amendment 9, Tax Relief for Surviving Spouses -- This measure would offer an additional tax exemption to the surviving spouses of veterans and first responders such as police officers and firefighters.

Amendment 10, Small Business Tax Relief -- About 150,000 businesses would benefit from the increase tax exemption on "tangible personal property" (machinery, office equipment, furniture, etc.) to $50,000 from the current $25,000.

Amendment 11, Tax Relief for Low-Income Seniors -- The proposal would allow local governments to give a property tax break to low-income seniors -- currently defined as those earning less than $27,000 a year -- who have lived for many years in homes whose values have escalated as high as $250,000, making their tax bills beyond their means.

Amendment 12, Students Representation -- Amendment 12 would alter the way the state Constitution currently provides for the student representative on the Florida Board of Governors to be selected. Instead of designating the head of the Florida Student Association, the representative would be chosen by the student body presidents.

AMENDMENT ANALYSIS

According to the institute, Amendment 1 is essentially a referendum on the Affordable Health Care Act. It gives Floridians the right under the state Constitution to refuse to comply with any "individual mandate" requiring everyone to buy health insurance. If you favor the Affordable Health Care Act, you will want to vote against Amendment 1.The institute, however, recommends a "yes" vote.

Amendment 2 would give a tax break to veterans disabled in combat. Basically, it corrects an inequity. A previous amendment gave the tax break to veterans who were already Florida residents when they entered the military. This amendment would offer the tax break to all Florida veterans disabled in combat. The institute recommends voting "yes."

The institution also recommends voting "yes" on Amendment 3, limiting state spending. According to the institute, government spending has been growing too fast for many years, often outstripping the rate of growth in the economy's private sector, whose taxes support the government.

Amendment 4 revolves around several property tax issues.

Owners of non-homestead real estate were hit disproportionately hard by property tax increases during the real estate boom. The institute says tax relief for owners of non-homestead property is only fair because many of these are small businesses that create jobs.

At the same time, the amendment is linked to two less desirable proposals. One, said the institute, gives legislators a chance to further complicate the inequities caused by the Save Our Homes amendment. As a result, the institute decided not to take a position on Amendment 4.

Amendment 5 was introduced by some of Florida's elected officials who have seen their legislation overturned by what they regard as judges who have overstepped their bounds. However, opponents, including the Florida Bar Association, feel the amendment would undermine the independence of the judicial branch. The institute recommends voting "yes."

The institute is taking no position on Amendment 6. Even though current federal and state statutes already prohibit using public funds for abortions except under certain circumstances such as when terminating a pregnancy is deemed necessary to spare the life of the mother, proponents believe this amendment would provide another layer of protection. Opponents say it infringes on the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade.

Amendment 8 repeals the so-called "Blaine Amendment," which prohibits the appropriation of public funds in the aid of religion. The repeal would allow faith-based entities to receive public funding for providing public services. Opponents, however, fear this would open the door for government officials to provide some religious groups with tax money while denying aid to others. The institute recommends voting "yes."

Amendment 9 would allow the Legislature to totally or partially eliminate property taxes on the surviving spouses of people who died while on duty in certain high-risk occupations and in the military. If approved, the state would lose less than $1 million in taxes statewide. The institute did not take a position on the amendment.

Amendment 10 increases the tax exemption on tangible personal property for 150,000 businesses, thus providing much-needed tas relief to small businesses. The institute recommends voting "yes."

Amendment 11 would give a tax break to low-income seniors. Opponents wonder why low-income seniors need another tax break when they're already protected on the Save Our Homes amendment. Proponents, however, argue that seniors on a modest pension or other form of fixed income are at risk of being taxed out of their homes, especially in areas such as Key West and South Beach where real estate prices have soared. The institute did not take a position on this amendment.

Finally, Amendment 12 changes the way student representatives are selected for the Florida Board of Governors, whiich oversees the state university system. The Florida Student Association opposes the amendment, arguing that there's no reason to tinker with the Constitution just because one or more universities might choose to withdraw from the FSA. The institute took no position.

 

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