Florida goes to the polls: a breakdown of proposed constitutional amendments

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Florida has always had somewhat of a love/hate relationship with amending its constitution. Voters have used the amendment process to build a high-speed rail system, to cancel said high-speed rail system just a few years later and to define the minimum size of cages allowed for pigs in gestation — among other things. Sorting through the political haze of ballot initiatives can unnerve even the most seasoned political veteran, leaving voters dazed and confused — especially when considering that amendments must be passed by a 60% majority vote…according to an amendment passed in 2006 with 57% of the vote.

But fear not! The Catalyst has broken through the political jargon, looked over the six proposed amendments and one proposed referendum on this year’s ballot and explained just what all of it means.

Amendment 1: repeal of public campaign financing requirement

This one sounds a bit straightforward. Amendment 1 would change current laws on the book that require the state to give money to those running statewide campaigns for elected office. For example, were your correspondent to run for governor, he would receive money from the state to, in the words of the original constitutional provision, “compete effectively.” If this amendment passes, the state would no longer be obligated to give public funds (read: tax dollars) to those trying to be elected to a statewide position.

Amendment 2: homestead ad valorem tax credit for deployed military personnel

According to the Florida Department of Revenue, “Every person who owns and resides on real property in Florida on Jan. 1 and makes the property their permanent residence is eligible to receive a homestead exemption up to $50,000.” This means that the first $50,000 worth of property someone owns is exempt from property taxes — so, if one owned property worth $75,000, only $25,000 of that would be taxable. Amendment 2 would give active military personnel whose duties were outside the United States an additional homestead exemption, though a dollar amount is not specified.

Amendment 4: referenda required for adoption and amendment of local government comprehensive land use plans

This amendment, commonly referred to as “Hometown Democracy,” would require any changes to a city’s or county’s urban planning scheme to be approved by voters before being implemented. For example, if a county decided to use the power of eminent domain to seize houses in order to build a new school, the plan would have to go to voters. Supporters of this amendment argue that it brings decision-making processes closer to the people most affected, while detractors say that it does nothing but slow down development to a snail’s pace — not to mention the potential cost of having multiple referenda each year.

Amendments 5 and 6: standards for legislature to follow in legislative (5) and congressional (6) redistricting

These amendments are virtually the same, except that Amendment 5 talks about redistricting efforts for the state legislature and Amendment 6 focuses on congressional elections. Both amendments seek to end (or at least reduce) the process of gerrymandering, where incumbent parties redraw electoral districts to benefit their own parties. The amendments require legislative and congressional districts to be “contiguous” and “compact” — unlike some districts, such as Florida’s 3rd Congressional district, which snakes through nine counties, twelve colleges and universities and runs from Orlando to Jacksonville. They also ban the drawing of districts in such a way that adversely impacts minority groups.

Amendment 8: revision of the class size requirements for public schools

Back in 2002, Florida voters approved an amendment to the constitution that capped the amount of students allowed in any one classroom to 18 students in prekindergarten through third grade classes, 22 students in fourth through eighth grade classes and 25 students in high school classes. Reducing the student-teacher ratio, though, costs money, and districts were weary of implementing such a change. The legislature, recognizing this, has proposed this amendment that would change the class size cap to represent an average class size rather than a definite class size — this means a school can have classes that exceed the limits originally proposed so long as, on average, everything balances out in the end. It also would allow a greater number of students permitted in each class.

Referendum 1: balancing the federal budget

This is really the only thing on the ballot that is completely meaningless as far as policy goes — it is a non-binding referendum that asks voters if the federal government should adopt a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It has no bearing on future policy, and is more of a “statement” by voters than anything else.

Election Day is on Tuesday, Nov. 2. All amendments to the Florida Constitution must be approved with at least 60% of voters voting in favor (per a 2008 amendment). Information for this article was taken from the Florida Division of Elections and the Florida Department of Revenue.

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