Your ballot in plain English: A guide to Florida's 2012 election

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2012 Amendments

Florida's ballot for the 2012 election contains eleven constitutional amendments, making it one of the longest in the United States and one of the longest in Florida's history. The result could be longer lines on Election Day because of the time it takes voters to read the entire ballot. Also, several of the amendments are written in "lawyer-speak," which may be confusing to many voters.

This year's ballot is also one of the most partisan and legislatively-influenced in history, in that every one of the amendments was introduced by the Florida State Legislature and nearly all of them were supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. None were placed on the ballot by citizens' groups.

Amendment 1: Health Care Services

Wording 

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to prohibit laws or rules from compelling any person or employer to purchase, obtain, or otherwise provide for health care coverage; permit a person or an employer to purchase lawful health care services directly from a health care provider; permit a health care provider to accept direct payment from a person or an employer for lawful health care services; exempt persons, employers, and health care providers from penalties and taxes for paying directly or accepting direct payment for lawful health care services; and prohibit laws or rules from abolishing the private market for health care coverage of any lawful health care service…

In plain English

Florida will "repeal" the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obama-care"). It aims to prevent laws that compel a person or employer to obtain or provide health care coverage.

Why vote YES?

Supporters claim the federal government's health care reforms abuse the power of government. They believe that people and employers should not be required to obtain or provide health insurance through a government program and that private insurance companies do a better job of providing health care.

Why vote NO?

Opponents maintain this amendment may not do what it is intended to do because the U.S. Constitution will override the state effort ("Supremacy Clause") to repeal it. They also believe that federal health care reforms allow more people to be covered, reduce the spiraling costs of health insurance, and offer an alternative to private insurance that does not cover everyone or people with pre-existing health conditions.

The bill passed the Florida Senate and Florida House on party-line voting, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.

Amendment 2: Veterans Disabled Due to Combat Injury; Homestead Property Tax Discount

Wording 

Proposing an amendment to Section 6 of Article VII and the creation of Section 32 of Article XII of the State Constitution to expand the availability of the property discount on the homesteads of veterans who became disabled as the result of a combat injury to include those who were not Florida residents when they entered the military and schedule the amendment to take effect January 1, 2013.

In plain English

Allows for property tax discounts for disabled veterans.

Why vote YES?

Veterans served the nation and many struggle with disabilities. The property tax discount will help them financially by reducing the taxes they pay.

Why vote NO?

Florida has budget troubles in that it does not raise enough revenue and spends too much money. This measure will further limit revenues collected that might be spent on needed public services.

The measure passed both the Florida Senate and House unanimously.

Amendment 3: State Government Revenue Limitation

Wording 

This proposed amendment to the State Constitution replaces the existing state revenue limitation based on Florida personal income growth with a new state revenue limitation based on inflation and population changes. Under the amendment, state revenues, as defined in the amendment, collected in excess of the revenue limitation must be deposited into the budget stabilization fund until the fund reaches its maximum balance…

In plain English

Replaces existing limits on the amount of revenue the state can collect with a new, strict formula based on inflation and population changes. This new formula will likely limit the state's revenues and therefore limit government programs.

Why vote YES?

Proponents feel that government is collecting too much revenue and they want to limit the amount of funds collected that are available to be spent on government programs. Any funds that exceed the revenue limits go into

Florida's "rainy day" fund.

Why vote NO?

Opponents, including the AARP, League of Women Voters, and others worry that the "revenue cap" could result in cuts to essential government services, government payrolls, and funding for schools.

The bill passed the Florida Senate and Florida House on party-line voting, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.

Amendment 4: Property Tax Limitations; Property Value Decline; Reduction for Non-homestead Assessment Increases; Delay of Scheduled Repeal

Wording 

This would amend Florida Constitution Article VII, Section 4 and Section 6. It also would amend Article XII… In certain circumstances, the law requires the assessed value of homestead and specified non-homestead property to increase when the just value of the property decreases. Therefore, this amendment provides that the Legislature may, by general law, provide that the assessment of homestead and specified non-homestead property may not increase if the just value of that property is less than the just value of the property on the preceding January 1, subject to any adjustment in the assessed value due to changes, additions, reductions, or improvements to such property which are assessed as provided by general law…

In plain English

Amends commercial and non-homestead (second homes) property taxes by mandating that governments would not be able to increase the assessed value of homestead property if the "fair market value" of the property decreases. It also provides an additional homestead exemption and shifts part of the tax burden from commercial owners to residential owners.

Why vote YES?

Proponents include developers and builders who do not want to see property taxes increase while the "fair market value" of property decreases.

Why vote NO?

Opponents include municipal and county governments because it will reduce revenues needed to operate public services. Some advocates of public schools oppose it because school funding through property taxes will decline.

The bill passed the Florida Senate and Florida House on party-line voting, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it, although a few Democrats in the House backed the measure.

Amendment 5: State Courts

Wording 

Proposing a revision of Article V of the State Constitution relating to the judiciary. The State Constitution authorizes the Supreme Court to adopt rules for the practice and procedure in all courts. The Constitution further provides that a rule of court may be repealed by the general law enacted by a two-thirds vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature. This proposed constitutional revision eliminates the requirement… [of] a two-thirds vote of each house, thereby providing that the Legislature may repeal a rule of court by a … majority vote… Under current law, the Governor appoints a justice of the Supreme Court from a list of nominees provided by a judicial nominating commission, and appointments by the Governor are not subject to confirmation. This revision requires Senate confirmation of a justice of the Supreme Court…

In plain English

Gives the Legislature increased control over the judicial branch and requires that all appointments to the Florida Supreme Court be subject to Senate confirmation. It also divides the current court into a Supreme Court of Civil Appeals and a Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals, each with five appointed justices. The most senior justices would be assigned to the latter court.

Why vote YES?

Supporters include the Florida Chamber of Commerce. It is argued that the efficiency of the courts would be enhanced by splitting the duties of the high courts. Proponents also support the notion that the Legislature (through the Senate) plays a role in confirming all appointments to the court.

Why vote NO?

The Florida Bar and judges across the state oppose the measure, believing it disrupts the balance of power by providing the Legislature with too much control over the courts (under this amendment, they only need a majority vote rather than a two-thirds vote to change the law) and creates an unusual and unnecessary two-court system. It is also argued that the measure attempts to "politicize" the criminal court by pushing older, "liberal" justices to the civil court.

The bill passed the Florida Senate and Florida House on party-line voting, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.

Amendment 6: Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions

Wording 

This proposed amendment provides that public funds may not be expended for any abortion or for health-benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. This prohibition does not apply to an expenditure required by federal law, a case in which a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would place her in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, or a case of rape or incest. This proposed amendment 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 plain English

Disallows public funds for any abortion or for health benefits that include any coverage of abortion. It also states that Florida's Constitution cannot be interpreted to include broader rights to abortion than what is contained in the U.S. Constitution

Why vote YES?

Various pro-life groups support the measure and maintain that abortion is not a woman's right but that it is murder. They also believe that no public funds should be used in any abortion service.

Why vote NO?

Various pro-choice groups oppose the measure and maintain that women have reproductive rights and the state government should not interfere with personal health care decisions.

The bill passed the Florida Senate and Florida House on party-line voting, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.

Amendment 7: Religious Freedom

NOTE: Amendment 7 was removed from the ballot by court order on grounds that it was unconstitutional. However, the legislature passed a law that gave the Florida Attorney General the authority to rewrite the proposal. This was done by AG Pam Bondi and the measure was placed back on the ballot as Amendment 8.

Amendment 8: Religious Freedom

Wording 

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, government benefits, funding or other support, except as required by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.

In plain English

Using public dollars for religious events is against the law, but this amendment would overturn the law and allow taxpayer money for religious purposes.

Why vote YES?

Supporters claim that faith-based groups are discriminated against because they cannot use taxpayer money and may be barred from participating in public programs in the capacity of a religious organization. This amendment would give religious organizations full access to government services and programs.

Why vote NO?

Opponents worry that the measure attempts to repeal of the age-old separation of church and state. It would allow taxpayer funds to go to religious organizations and public education money to go to religious schools.

The bill passed the Florida Senate and Florida House on party-line voting, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.

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

Wording 

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize the Legislature to provide by general law ad valorem homestead property tax relief to the surviving spouse of a military veteran who died from service-connected causes while on active duty or to the surviving spouse of a first responder who died in the line of duty. The amendment authorizes the Legislature to totally exempt or partially exempt such surviving spouse's homestead property from ad valorem taxation…

In plain English

Authorizes the Legislature to totally or partially exempt surviving spouses of military veterans and first responders who die in the line of duty from paying property taxes.

Why vote YES?

Members of our armed forces and first responders put their lives on the line for the public and this amendment allows the Legislature to financially assist the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran or first responder by reducing their property taxes.

Why vote NO?

Florida has budget troubles in that it does not raise enough revenue and spends too much money. This measure will further limit revenues collected that might be spent on needed public services.

This amendment passed both chambers of the state legislature with a unanimous vote.

Amendment 10: Tangible Personal Property Tax Exemption

Wording 

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to provide an exemption from ad valorem taxes levied by counties, municipalities, school districts, and other local governments on tangible personal property if the assessed value of an owner's tangible personal property is greater than $25,000 but less than $50,000…

In plain English

Provides an exemption from local government taxes on personal property that is valued between $25,000 and $50,000.

Why vote YES?

Supporters claim Florida's citizens should pay less in taxes, which frees up citizens to spend more money, thus stimulating the economy. They also feel government is too big. Less taxes means less government programs and services.

Why vote NO?

Opponents claim that Florida's budget troubles will only get worse with less revenue, and necessary public services will be cut.

Amendment 11: Additional Homestead Exemption: Low-Income Seniors Who Maintain

Long-term Residency on Property; Equal to Assessed Value

Wording 

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize the Legislature, by general law and subject to conditions set forth in the general law, to allow counties and municipalities to grant an additional homestead tax exemption equal to the assessed value of homestead property if the property has a just value less than $250,000 to an owner who has maintained permanent residency on the property for not less than 25 years, who has attained age 65, and who has a low household income as defined by general law.

In plain English

Authorizes counties and municipalities to offer additional tax exemptions on homes of low-income seniors.

Why vote YES?

Opponents argue that seniors on a fixed income need the relief offered by this additional tax exemption.

Why vote NO?

Opponents claim that Florida's budget troubles will only get worse with less revenue, and necessary public services will be cut. They also worry that, with so many amendments on the ballot that reduce revenues, even the most essential public services will be in jeopardy.

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

Wording 

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to replace the president of the Florida Student Association with the chair of the council of state university student body presidents as the student member of the Board of Governors of the State University System and to require that the Board of Governors organize such council of state university student body presidents.

In plain English

Revises the selection process for the student member of the Board of Governors of the State University System. The student representative used to be the president of the Florida Student Association but would now be the chair of a council of state university student body presidents.

Why vote YES?

Proponents claim the process is more democratic because the representative to the Board of Governors will come from a new association of student government presidents. These individuals are students who were elected by their campuses.

Why vote NO?

Opponents believe the current system works fine and does not need to be reformed.

 

Appendix A

Ballot Amendments and Citizen Initiatives

Why are there amendments on the ballot?

All state constitutions – like the U.S. Constitution – are meant to be living documents. As such, in the face of serious issues and events it may be necessary to amend the constitution. The Florida Constitution provides for a process that allows individuals and the State Legislature to propose amendments to the State Constitution. Fully 60 percent of the Legislature must vote to place an amendment on the ballot. If it is then approved by a 60 percent majority during the election the amendment will be added to the State Constitution.

What is a citizen initiative?                     

This is the process that permits individuals or groups to get an amendment or referendum placed on the ballot by securing enough voter signatures beforehand.

What is the process for placing an amendment on the ballot?

There are several steps required. The first is for the individual (or group) seeking to propose an amendment to register with the Florida Division of Elections as a political committee. The proposed amendment must then be submitted to the Division of Elections for review to determine if it is written in the proper legal format. For instance, the petition form circulated among voters for their signature must be clearly marked as a "Constitutional Amendment Petition" and state the name of the sponsoring political committee. State law requires that the title of an amendment on the ballot be no more than 15 words long and the summary description of it not exceed 75 words. There are a few exceptions and a few other requirements as well.

How does one go about getting signatures?

Petitions must include the signee's name, legal address, date of birth, voter registration number, signature, and the date of the signature. Only one voter/signature per page is permitted. Once the petition forms are completed, they must be submitted to the Supervisor of Elections in the county where the signee resides along with a fee (approximately 10 cents per signature) to cover the cost of validating the signatures (there is a process to request a waiver of the fee). Petitions are due by February 1 of the year of the election. The petitions are also reviewed by the Division of Elections, State Attorney General, and Florida Supreme Court.

How many signatures are required?

Eight percent of votes cast in the previous presidential election. Additionally, the petitions must come from at least half the state's congressional districts. (Once the petition signatures are obtained, they are good for four years from the date signed.)

 

Appendix B

10 Common Voting Myths

Myth 1: If your name doesn't appear on

the voter roll at the polling site you can't vote.  No, you can vote but you will need to do so with a provisional ballot.

Myth 2: If you recently moved and forgot to inform the Supervisor of Elections you can't vote.  No, you can still vote as long as you live in the state and are a registered voter, but you will need to vote with a provisional ballot.

Myth 3: Absentee ballots really don't count unless there is a tied election.  No, absentee ballots count like regular ballots in every state.

Myth 4: If you were convicted of a felony you can't vote. Well, this one is misleading. Each state has its own laws about whether former felons can vote. In Florida, felons lose their right to vote but can petition to regain their right.

Myth 5: You will be turned away from the polls if you wear a political shirt or candidate's button. No, if you are a registered voter you can't be turned away, unless you are disruptive or breaking a law. However, active campaigning is prohibited in the voting area.

Myth 6: If you have an unpaid parking ticket you can't vote. No, you can vote even if you have unpaid parking tickets, owe child support, and so on. Polling sites do not have information about such matters.

Myth 7: If you were registered to vote by ACORN your registration is invalid. No, as long as the individual(s) registering you (from any organization) filed accurate information with the elections office you are registered.

Myth 8: If your address on your driver's license doesn't match the address on your voter card, you can't vote. No, it does not need to match, although you may be asked to complete a provisional ballot.

Myth 9: If you receive food stamps or welfare you can't vote. No, you can still vote… whether or not you receive these supports, or student loans, federal grants, Medicaid, and so on.

Myth 10: I can't register to vote using my school address because I will be dropped from my parents' health insurance coverage. No, you will not be dropped.

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