Does Tallahassee know best?

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
July 10, 2018 2:00 p.m.

In recent years Florida’s counties and cities have become increasingly concerned over what has often appeared to be the Legislature’s attempt to preempt local government’s home rule rights. Instead of letting local governments make their own laws regulating tree trimming, short term rentals, and impact fees, Tallahassee legislators have attempted with varying degrees of success to take back decision making with respect to these and other areas long considered local issues.

The latest and what many would say is the most troublesome issue involves an amendment proposed to the state Constitution, which would provide additional homestead breaks to certain property owners.  The Legislature has proposed Amendment 1 for voter consideration at the November 6, 2018 General Election.  The amendment summary reads:

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to increase the homestead exemption by exempting the assessed valuation of homestead property greater than $100,000 and up to $125,000 for all levies other than school district levies. The amendment shall take effect January 1, 2019.

Now, to the average voter on first reading, this sounds like a good thing.  Who would not want to take advantage of an additional homestead exemption? But the matter is not quite as simple or straightforward as it might at first seem.  This “benefit” would not affect state level revenues much if at all, because state government is funded primarily by sales tax.  But it would have a dramatic affect on local government’s ability to fund essential local services such as public safety, recreation and parks from its primary revenue source:  ad valorem (property) taxes.

Logically, this local government shortfall will need to be made up somehow (rising millage rates, franchise fees, etc.) or vital public services must be curtailed to stay in line with less tax revenue.

Currently, all homeowners with an assessed value from $0-$25,000 qualify for the first homestead exemption on their primary residence. The second homestead exemption applies to assessed values between $50,000 and $75,000. The proposed third exemption would apply only to assessed home values between $100,000 and $125,000. This means that many property owners—including businesses—would not qualify for the exemption; and some property owners would only qualify for a partial exemption.

To see if you qualify, visit www.3hxestimator.org.

This is only one of 13 proposed Constitutional amendments that will appear on the November 6 General Election Ballot.  The first 5 were proposed by the Florida Legislature; the remaining 8 were recommended by the Constitutional Revision Commission.  Proposed amendments must receive support from 60 percent of the voters to be approved.

As you can see from the entire list (below), they cover a wide range of topics from taxes to term limits for school board members to gambling, vaping and dog racing.  The question that voters must ask themselves before deciding to support any of these proposed amendments is this:  should such matters be regulated by the state or by local government?

Proposed Constitutional Amendments for Voters to Consider on November 6, 2018

1.  CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ARTICLE VII, SECTION 6 ARTICLE XII, SECTION 37

BALLOT TITLE:

Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to increase the homestead exemption by exempting the assessed valuation of homestead property greater than $100,000 and up to $125,000 for all levies other than school district levies. The amendment shall take effect January 1, 2019.

2.  CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ARTICLE XII, SECTION 27

BALLOT TITLE:

Limitations on Property Tax Assessments

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to permanently retain provisions currently in effect, which limit property tax assessment increases on specified non-homestead real property, except for school district taxes, to 10 percent each year. If approved, the amendment removes the scheduled repeal of such provisions in 2019 and shall take effect January 1, 2019.

3. CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ARTICLE X, SECTION 29

BALLOT TITLE:

Voter Control of Gambling in Florida

BALLOT SUMMARY:

This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Affects
articles X and XI. Defines casino gambling and clarifies that this amendment does not conflict with federal law regarding state/ tribal compacts.

4. CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ARTICLE VI, SECTION 4

BALLOT TITLE:

Voting Restoration Amendment

BALLOT SUMMARY:

This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on
a case by case basis.

5. CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ARTICLE VII, SECTION 19

BALLOT TITLE:

Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Prohibits the legislature from imposing, authorizing, or raising a state tax or fee except through legislation approved by a two- thirds vote of each house of the legislature in a bill containing no other subject. This proposal does not authorize a state tax or fee otherwise prohibited by the Constitution and does not apply to fees or taxes imposed or authorized to be imposed by a county, municipality, school board, or special district.

6. CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION ARTICLE I, SECTION 16 ARTICLE V, SECTIONS 8 AND 21 ARTICLE XII, NEW SECTION

BALLOT TITLE:

Rights of Crime Victims; Judges

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Creates constitutional rights for victims of crime; requires courts to facilitate victims’ rights; authorizes victims to enforce their rights throughout criminal and juvenile justice processes. Requires judges and hearing officers to independently interpret statutes and rules rather than deferring to government agency’s interpretation. Raises mandatory retirement age of state justices and judges from seventy to seventy-five years; deletes authorization to complete judicial term if one-half of term has been served by retirement age.

7. CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION ARTICLE IX, SECTIONS 7 AND 8 ARTICLE X, NEW SECTION

BALLOT TITLE:

First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Grants mandatory payment of death benefits and waiver of certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders and military members who die performing official duties. Requires supermajority votes by university trustees
and state university system board of governors to raise or impose all legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies. Establishes existing state college system as constitutional entity; provides governance structure.

8. CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION ARTICLE IX, SECTION 4, NEW SECTION ARTICLE XII, NEW SECTION

BALLOT TITLE:

School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Creates a term limit of eight consecutive years for school
board members and requires the legislature to provide for the promotion of civic literacy in public schools. Currently, district school boards have a constitutional duty to operate, control, 
and supervise all public schools. The amendment maintains a school board’s duties to public schools it establishes, but permits the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.

9. CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION ARTICLE II, SECTION 7 ARTICLE X, SECTION 20

BALLOT TITLE:

Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. Adds use of vapor-generating electronic devices to current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces with exceptions; permits more restrictive local vapor ordinances.

10. CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION ARTICLE III, SECTION 3 ARTICLE IV, SECTIONS 4 AND 11 ARTICLE VIII, SECTIONS 1 AND 6

BALLOT TITLE:

State and Local Government Structure and Operation

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Requires legislature to retain department of veterans’ affairs. Ensures election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors
of elections, tax collectors, and clerks of court in all counties; removes county charters’ ability to abolish, change term, transfer duties, or eliminate election of these offices. Changes annual legislative session commencement date in even- numbered years from March to January; removes legislature’s authorization to fix another date. Creates office of domestic security and counterterrorism within department of law enforcement.

11. CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION ARTICLE I, SECTION 2 ARTICLE X, SECTIONS 9 AND 19

BALLOT TITLE:

Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Removes discriminatory language related to real property rights. Removes obsolete language repealed by voters. Deletes provision that amendment of a criminal statute will not affect prosecution or penalties for a crime committed before the amendment; retains current provision allowing prosecution of
a crime committed before the repeal of a criminal statute.

12. CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION ARTICLE II, SECTION 8 ARTICLE V, SECTION 13 ARTICLE XII, NEW SECTION

BALLOT TITLE:

Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Expands current restrictions on lobbying for compensation
by former public officers; creates restrictions on lobbying for compensation by serving public officers and former justices and judges; provides exceptions; prohibits abuse of a public position by public officers and employees to obtain a personal benefit.

13. CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION ARTICLE X, NEW SECTION ARTICLE XII, NEW SECTION

BALLOT TITLE:

Ends Dog Racing

BALLOT SUMMARY:

Phases out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering by 2020. Other gaming activities are not affected.

Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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