April 15, 2024

Florida Law

Florida's constitutional amendments are a mixed bag

The Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years, has proposed eight constitutional amendments — many combining multiple measures. Five single-topic proposals from the Legislature or citizens were already slated for the ballot.

Jason Garcia | 6/28/2018

  NO. 8

School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools

Proposal

This is the amendment that will draw the most passion and fury, pairing two broadly popular ideas with one very controversial and partisan idea. The popular ideas: Imposing eight-year term limits on members of county school boards and requiring that civics lessons be taught in public schools. The controversial element: Exempting state-created charter schools from any oversight by the local school board.

Pro and Con

Voters seem to love term limits, but they come with consequences. While they promise more turnover and inject fresh blood into public office, they also lead to reduced competition in elections and shift power to unelected, but more knowledgeable, administrators and lobbyists. And while most may approve of teaching kids civics, each new instructional mandate from the state leads to a cut somewhere else because schools have only so much time and money. As far as the main debate: The practical effect of the amendment would allow the state to create a new entity that could approve new charter schools even over opposition from locals. Proponents, who have accused school districts of dogmatic opposition to charters, say charters add more competition, innovation and choice for parents. Opponents say it’s the latest step in an attempt to undermine public schools and privatize K-12 education.

Political Context

Getting this amendment onto the ballot is a big win for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has successfully advanced a sweeping, and incendiary, package of K-12 changes over the past two years. But it is also broadly supported by the rest of Florida’s GOP leaders, who have embraced the school-choice movement since Jeb Bush was governor. The campaign to pass the amendment is likely to draw significant financial support from the charter-school industry. But it will also face intense opposition from public school teachers and local school leaders. The 60% threshold will be tough.

  NO. 9

Prohibits Off shore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Workplaces

Proposal

Probably the oddest pairing on the ballot, this amendment bans offshore oil and gas drilling in Florida’s territorial waters — and vaping at indoor workplaces.

Pro and Con

Environmentalists have been lobbying for years for a drilling ban, both to guard against spills and to help in the broader movement to wean society’s addiction to fossil fuels. The oiland- gas drilling industry argues that fuel development is an important economic driver and that banning offshore drilling increases the country’s reliance on oil from other countries. Meanwhile, a 2002 constitutional amendment already bans smoking in Florida workplaces; supporters of adding e-cigarettes, which weren’t around when the original amendment passed, say it’s a logical extension to protect against second-hand contaminants.

Political Context

Though the oil and gas industry opposes this amendment, it’s unclear whether they’ll invest much money fighting what is likely to be a popular measure. This is an about-face for Florida GOP leaders, who have repeatedly refused to enact an oil-drilling ban over the years. But having it on the ballot gives Scott something green to tout to general election voters.

  NO. 10

State and Local Government Structure and Operation

Proposal

A general government grab bag that collapses four issues into one, this amendment also pairs a few benign changes with a controversial change. It would establish a counterterrorism office within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It cements into the constitution a state Department of Veterans’ Affairs. It fixes in place the Legislature’s recent practice of beginning sessions in even-numbered years in January, rather than March. And the controversial part: It would force every county to make its sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections or clerk of courts positions elected offices, rather than appointed ones.

Orlando bridge district plan

Pro and Con

There’s not really any opposition to the counterterrorism, veterans affairs or session start date changes. But there is plenty of opposition to the fourth provision in Miami-Dade County, where all of those county officer positions are appointed by the mayor rather than elected by the public. There are also a handful of other charter counties that have made some of those positions, such as clerk of the courts, into appointed jobs. Locals say the amendment undermines the principle of home rule; supporters of the changes argue elected officials would be more responsive to the public.

Political Context

This amendment is ultimately about the sheriff’s job in Miami-Dade County, which is the only one of Florida’s 67 counties where the top cop is appointed rather than elected. Some Miami politicians are upset that voters outside of Miami will decide how Miami chooses its sheriff.

Tags: Politics & Law, Government/Politics & Law

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