According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a constitution is the basic principles and laws of a nation, state, or social group that determine the powers and duties of the government and guarantee certain rights to the people in it and a written instrument embodying the rules of a political or social organization. Our country and each of the fifty states have a constitution and it is important to look at a constitution as a living document subject to change when new challenges are presented to the society governed by the constitution.
In Florida we are guided by the United States Constitution and the Florida Constitution. Florida has had six different constitutions with the first being approved in 1838 when Florida became a territory and the current constitution being approved in 1968 with amendments being added. The United States Constitution has been in place since 1787 and has only been amended 27 times.
Florida is also guided by statute or general laws that have been passed by the Florida Legislature (House of Representatives and Senate) and approved by the Governor. When looking at a constitutional amendment the question needs to be asked: is this something that belongs in the Florida Constitution or in general law?
The Florida State Constitution can be amended in five different ways:
1. The Florida Legislature is able to place an amendment on the ballot through a joint resolution being passed by a three-fifths vote of each chamber of the legislature.
2. The Citizens’ Initiative can also place an amendment on the ballot through a petition process that requires at least 8% of the total number of Florida voters from the previous presidential election ( threshold of 766,200 voters) and that come from at least one-half or 14 out of 27 of the congressional districts in the state. The petitions must be certified by the Supervisor of Elections and Florida Supreme Court must review the ballot language to ensure it meets statutory requirements. Additionally, the citizen initiative is subject to a financial impact review.
3. The Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) meets every twenty years and is comprised of the Attorney General, fifteen members selected by the governor, nine members selected by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, nine members selected by the President of the Senate, and three members selected by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Florida. The CRC meet starting in 2017 and has placed eight amendments on the ballot for voters to decide on. Of interest to many is that the CRC does not have to follow the single subject mandate that the Legislature and the Citizen’s Initiatives must abide by. Additionally, the ballot language is not reviewed by the Supreme Court.
4. The Constitutional Convention is used to revise or replace the state constitution and can be called through a petition process which must have 15% of the total voters from the prior presidential election. Once the petitions are certified by the Supervisor of Elections the question on the ballot is “Shall a constitutional convention be held?”
5. The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission (TBRC) was created in 2007 and can place amendments on the ballot for consideration of the voters if eighteen of the twenty-five members of the Commission approve. The members of the Commission include eleven members selected by the Governor, seven member selected by the Speaker of the House and seven member selected by the President of the Senate of which none can be members of the legislature. There are also four non-voting ex officio members who are members of the legislature at the time of appointment. The Speaker and the President each pick two members, one of which must be a member of the minority party of their chamber.
All amendments must pass by at least 60% of the vote.
This year, voters will be looking at six proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution which will be on the ballot for the General Election on November 3, 2020. Here is a look at each of the amendments as they will appear on the ballot with the portion of the Constitution that will be affected, the ballot title, a ballot summary, how it was placed on the ballot, the effect of the change and a look at the financial impact to state and local governments.
Article VI, Section 2
Ballot Title: Citizenship Requirement to Vote in Florida Elections Placed on ballot by petition process by Florida Citizen Voters
Ballot Summary: This amendment provides that only United States Citizens are at least eighteen years of age, a permanent resident of Florida, and registered to vote, as provided by law, shall be qualified to vote in a Florida election.
Placed on Ballot: This amendment was placed on the ballot by Citizen Initiative petition process by a group called Florida Citizen Voters.
Change to the Constitution: This amendment would change the wording “Every citizen” of the United States who is at least eighteen years of age and who is a permanent resident of the state, if registered as provided by law, shall be an elector of the county where registered;" to “Only citizens” of the United States who is at least eighteen years of age and who is a permanent resident of the state, if registered as provided by law, shall be an elector of the county where registered."
Supporters of the amendment say this change is necessary because there is no requirement in the US Constitution or the Florida Constitution that specifically requires US citizenship to vote.
Financial Impact Statement: Because the proposed amendment is not expected to result in any changes to the voter registration process in Florida, it will have no impact on state or local government costs or revenues. Further, it will have no effect on the state’s economy.
Article X, Section 24
Ballot Title: Raising Florida’s Minimum Wage
Ballot Summary: Raises minimum wage to $10.00 per hour effective September 30th, 2021. Each September 30th thereafter, minimum wage shall increase by $1.00 per hour until the minimum wage reaches $15.00 per hour on September 30th, 2026. From that point forward, future minimum wage increases shall revert to being adjusted annually for inflation starting September 30th, 2027.
Placed on Ballot: This amendment was placed on the ballot by Citizen Initiative petition process by a group called Florida For A Fair Wage.
Change to the Constitution: This amendment would put into the State Constitution a requirement for the State minimum wage to increase incrementally to $15.00 per hour by September 2026.
Under Amendment 2, the state minimum wage would increase each year as follows:
$10.00 on September 30, 2021;
$11.00 on September 30, 2022;
$12.00 on September 30, 2023;
$13.00 on September 30, 2024;
$14.00 on September 30, 2025; and
$15.00 on September 30, 2026.
Beginning on September 30, 2027, there would be an annual adjustment to the state minimum wage based on increases to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).
The current minimum wage in Florida is $8.56 per hour.
Financial Impact Statement: State and local government costs will increase to comply with the new minimum wage levels. Additional annual wage costs will be approximately $16 million in 2022, increasing to about $540 million in 2027 and thereafter. Government actions to mitigate these costs are unlikely to produce material savings. Other government costs and revenue impacts, both positive and negative, are not quantifiable.
Supporters: Florida For A Fair Wage; John Morgan
Opposition: Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association
Article VI, Section 5
Ballot Title: All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for State Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet
Ballot Summary: Allows all registered voters to vote in primaries for state legislature, governor, and cabinet regardless of political party affiliation. All candidates for an office, including party nominated candidates, appear on the same primary ballot. Two highest vote getters advance to general election. If only two candidates qualify, no primary is held, and winner is determined in general election. Candidate’s party affiliation may appear on ballot as provided by law. Effective January 1, 2024.
Placed on Ballot: This amendment was placed on the ballot by Citizen Initiative petition process by a group called All Voters Vote, Inc.
Change to Constitution: Currently Florida has a closed primary system, meaning that during the Primary election, only voters of a specific party may vote for candidates of that party. For example, if two candidates from the XYZ Party are running for Governor, only voters of the XYZ Party can vote for a candidate in that race. The winner of that election would then go onto the General Election.
Amendment 3 would change to an open primary system for Primary Elections.
Financial Impact Statement: It is probable that the proposed amendment will result in additional local government costs to conduct elections in Florida. The Financial Impact Estimating Conference projects that the combined costs across counties will range from $5.2 million to $5.8 million for each of the first three election cycles occurring in even-numbered years after the amendment’s effective date, with the costs for each of the intervening years dropping to less than $450,000. With respect to state costs for oversight, the additional costs for administering elections are expected to be minimal. Further, there are no revenues linked to voting in Florida. Since there is no impact on state costs or revenues, there will be no impact on the state’s budget. While the proposed amendment will result in an increase in local expenditures, this change is expected to be below the threshold that would produce a statewide economic impact.
Supporters: All Voters Vote, Inc.
Opposition: Democratic Party of Florida; Republican Party of Florida, People over Profits
Article XI, Sections 5 and 7
Ballot Title: Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments
Ballot Summary: Requires all proposed amendments or revisions to the state constitution to be approved by the voters in two elections, instead of one, in order to take effect. The proposal applies the current thresholds for passage to each of the two elections.
Placed on Ballot: This amendment was placed on the ballot by Citizen Initiative petition process by a group called Keep Our Constitution Clean PC.
Change to Constitution: This amendment would require all proposed constitutional amendments to be passed by the voters in two different election cycles by at least 60%.
Financial Impact Statement: It is probable that the proposed amendment will result in additional state and local government costs to conduct elections in Florida. Overall, these costs will vary from election cycle to election cycle depending on the unique circumstances of each ballot and cannot be estimated at this time. The key factors determining cost include the number of amendments appearing for the second time on each ballot and the length of those amendments. Since the maximum state cost is likely less than $1 million per cycle but the impact cannot be discreetly quantified, the change to the state’s budget is unknown. Similarly, the economic impact cannot be modeled, although the spending increase is expected to be below the threshold that would produce a statewide economic impact. Because there are no revenues linked to voting in Florida, there will be no impact on government taxes or fees.
Article VII, Section 4; Article XII
Ballot Title: Limitation on Homestead Assessment
Ballot Summary: Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution, effective date January 1, 2021, to increase, from 2 years to 3 years, the period of time during which accrued Save-Our-Homes benefits may be transferred from a prior homestead to a new homestead.
Placed on Ballot: This amendment was place on the ballot by the Florida Legislature, House Joint Resolution 369.
Change to Constitution: This amendment would extend the period for a homestead property owner to transfer a prior SOH benefit to a new homestead
from 2 years to 3 years. If approved by the voters, a homeowner who establishes a new homestead as of January 1 would be able to have the new homestead assessed at less than just value if the homeowner received a prior homestead exemption as of January 1 of any of the immediately preceding 3 years.
Fiscal Impact Statement: Article XI, section 5(d) of the Florida Constitution requires proposed amendments or constitutional revisions to be published in a newspaper of general circulation in each county where a newspaper is published. The amendment or revision must be published once in the 10th week and again in the sixth week immediately preceding the week the election is held. The statewide average cost for the Division of Elections (division) within the Department of State to advertise constitutional amendments, in English and Spanish, in newspapers for the 2018 election cycle was $92.93 per English word of the originating document. The division estimates the publication costs for advertising the proposed amendment will be at least $58,174.18. This cost will likely be paid from non-recurring General Revenue funds. The impact to local governments would depend on the number of properties affected by the new change and is currently indeterminate.
Article VII, Section 6; Article XII
Ballot Title: Ad Valorem Tax Discount for Spouses of Certain Deceased Veterans Who Had Permanent, Combat-Related Disabilities
Ballot Summary: Provides that the homestead property tax discount for certain veterans with permanent combat-related disabilities carries over to such veteran's surviving spouse who holds legal or beneficial title to, and who permanently resides on, the homestead property, until he or she remarries or sells or otherwise disposes of the property. The discount may be transferred to a new homestead property of the surviving spouse under certain conditions. The amendment takes effect January 1, 2021.
Placed on Ballot: This amendment was placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature House Joint Resolution 877.
Change to Constitution: expand the discount on ad valorem taxes provided to an honorably discharged veteran who is age 65 or older and is partially or totally and permanently disabled because of combat to include surviving spouses. Specifically, the joint resolution would allow the same ad valorem tax discount on homestead property for combat-disabled veterans age 65 or older to carry over to the surviving spouse of a veteran receiving the discount if the surviving spouse holds the legal or beneficial title to the homestead, permanently resides thereon, and does not remarry.
The discount would apply to the property until the surviving spouse remarries, sells, or otherwise disposes of the property. If the spouse sells the property, a discount not to exceed the amount granted from the most recent ad valorem tax roll may be transferred to his or her new residence, as long as the
residence is used as the surviving spouse’s permanent residence and he or she does not remarry.
Fiscal Impact Statement: It is probable that the proposed amendment will result in additional state and local government costs to conduct elections in Florida. Overall, these costs will vary from election cycle to election cycle depending on the unique circumstances of each ballot and cannot be estimated at this time. The key factors determining cost include the number of amendments appearing for the second time on each ballot and the length of those amendments. Since the maximum state cost is likely less than $1 million per cycle but the impact cannot be discreetly quantified, the change to the state’s budget is unknown. Similarly, the economic impact cannot be modeled, although the spending increase is expected to be below the threshold that would produce a statewide economic impact. Because there are no revenues linked to voting in Florida, there will be no impact on government taxes or fees.
The Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) estimated the proposed constitutional amendment to have a zero or negative indeterminate impact on local government revenue due to the need for approval by the voters. If approved by the voters, and assuming current millage rates, the REC estimated the proposed constitutional amendment to have a negative impact on school tax revenues of $0.4 million in fiscal year (FY) 2021-22 with a recurring negative impact of $1.6 million. The negative impact on non-school property tax revenues is estimated to be $0.6 million in FY 2021-22 with a recurring negative impact of $2.4 million.
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