Constitutional amendments 3, 4, 5 & 6 on the ballot

OKEECHOBEE — Amendment 3 requires voter approval of casino gambling and was placed on the ballot by petition of Florida citizens. Some 766,200 signatures are required in order to have a measure put on the ballot. The League of Women Voters supports this amendment because it would put the responsibility for deciding whether to allow increases in casino gambling in the hands of the voters rather than in the hands of the legislature where it is now.

The League of Women Voters lists supporters of this amendment as Disney Worldwide Services, Seminole Tribe of Florida, No Casinos Inc., Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, League of Women Voters of Florida, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. They list no opponents.

Jamesmadison.org lists the fact that the amendment takes the decision out of the elected officials’ hands as a pro because it could keep special-interest groups from influencing their decisions.

Voting yes on this amendment would mean that you are voting that no new casino gambling would be approved in the state of Florida without a constitutional amendment initiated by the citizens of Florida.

Voting no would mean that you want to leave the decision on new casinos in the hands of the legislature.

Amendment 4

Amendment 4 was also placed on the ballot by citizen initiative. This amendment would automatically restore the right of convicted felons, other than murderers and violent sexual offenders, once they have fulfilled their sentence, including parole or probation, to vote. As it stands now, even after completing their sentence, felons must wait five to seven years before applying to have the right to vote restored, and even after applying, the chance of having their application approved is small. Votevets, a nonprofit organization founded to help veterans and their families, explained that there are only three other states with a lifetime ban on voting for convicted felons.

The League of Women Voters was one of the sponsors of this bill. The league lists as one of its reasons a study by the Governor’s Clemency Board that shows a 30 percent drop in recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend) when voting rights are restored.

Jerry Green, Florida coordinator for VoteVets, stated: “We believe that when a person has paid their debt in full, they deserve a second chance. That includes the many military veterans who have faced difficulties and had substance abuse or other legal issues after their military service and are now permanently banned from participating in our democracy.

VoteVets is proud to support Amendment Four.” Jamesmadison.org calls the current system, “a bottleneck that has disparate impacts on felons who are unable to navigate the system.”

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), which was establish in 1991 and whose mission is to make the justice system more fair while still keeping communities safe, fully supports Amendment Four. Kevin Ring, the president of FAMM stated, “FAMM is proud to support Amendment 4 because we believe in second chances. For over a quarter-century, FAMM has worked to achieve changes that both respect human dignity and also keep our communities safe. When a person returning to their community after paying their debt in full is able to participate in the democratic process, they are less likely to reoffend. Amendment 4 means second chances, and it also means safer communities.”

The League of Women Voters lists Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Floridians for a Fair Democracy, American Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters of Florida, Progress Florida, Florida Policy Institute, Florida Education Association, and the Florida National Organization for Women as supporters of the amendment. They list the Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy as the only opponents.

If you vote yes on this amendment, you will be voting to automatically restore the right to vote to convicted felons (except those convicted of murder or violent sexual assault) after they have completed all aspects of their sentence.

If you vote no on this amendment, you will be voting to leave things the way they are.

Amendment 5

Amendment 5 was placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature, at the request of Gov. Rick Scott. This amendment would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature in order to increase taxes or fees. As things stand now, the Legislature can increase taxes, except corporate income tax, through a simple majority vote. If it passes, it would require a two-thirds majority in each chamber of the Legislature before taxes can be raised or passed. Local governments would be excluded from this requirement in the event they chose to raise taxes.

At this time, 15 states require a super-majority for at least some of their tax decisions.

The League of Women Voters opposes this amendment because it does not contain any provisions for emergencies such as hurricanes or floods, and they also believe it may hinder the Legislature’s ability to pass a budget.

The League of Women Voters lists the supporters of this amendment as Florida Tax Watch and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and opponents as the League of Women Voters, Florida Policy Institute, Progress Florida, Florida Education Association and Southern Poverty Law Center.

If you vote yes on this amendment, you are voting to require a two-thirds majority vote before raising or passing any new taxes.

If you vote no on this amendment, you are voting to leave things as they are now, which means a simple majority can raise or pass new taxes.

Amendment 6

Amendment 6 was placed on the ballot by the Constitutional Revision Committee (CRC). The Florida Constitution requires that every 20 years, a committee is appointed to review and recommend changes to the Florida constitution. Fifteen members are appointed by the governor, nine are picked by the House speaker, nine by the Senate president, the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court chooses three, and the Florida attorney general is the final member. The committee gathers input from the public and recommends proposed amendments to go on the ballot. The CRC is allowed to bundle its issues, so completely unrelated items often will be on one amendment and cannot be voted on separately.

Amendment 6 is one of those bundled amendments. It deals with three completely unrelated issues.

The first part of the amendment deals with the rights of victims, and is taken in part from a law that is already on the books in some states called Marsy’s Law. Marsy Nicholas was a college student who was murdered in 1982. A week after her death, Marsy’s mother and brother ran into her murderer in a grocery store. No one had told them that he was out on bail. Marsy’s brother has since made it a goal to have laws put into effect giving victims and their families constitutional and equal rights. Florida already has some laws on the books which support the rights of victims, but this amendment would expand upon these.

The second part of this amendment deals with the mandatory retirement age of Florida judges, including Supreme Court justices. At this time, the retirement age is 70. If the amendment is passed, the new mandatory retirement age will be 75.

The third part of the amendment is concerned with the way courts interpret state laws. If passed, this amendment would force courts to determine the meaning of a state law themselves rather than depending on a state agency to interpret it for them.

The League of Women Voters lists 37 Florida sheriffs, Florida Smart Justice, and Marsy’s Law for Florida as supporters of this amendment. It lists itself along with the Florida Public Defender Association, ACLU of Florida and the Southern Poverty Law Center as opponents.

The League of Women Voters explains that it is opposed because “victims” rights are already protected in the Constitution, and this amendment would eliminate an existing provision that victims’ rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.”

One important thing to remember about this amendment is that you are voting for all or nothing. A yes vote means an increase in victims’ rights AND an increase in retirement age for judges AND a change in the way courts interpret laws.

As always, make sure you vote, but research the issues first, and vote wisely!

12 Amendments will appear on the ballot. Read more about these amendments here.

Amendments 1 & 2

Amendments 3, 4, 5, & 6 above

Amendments 7, 9, 10, 11, 12 & 13

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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