Published in Florida Weekly 1/10/20
HERE COME THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
By Dave Trecker
The good news is there will be only six constitutional amendments on the ballot this year as opposed to a staggering 12 in 2018. The bad news is few people have a clue what any of the amendments are about.
Here’s a quick summary.
Amendment 1 tinkers with wording on who can vote in Florida, changing “Every citizen of the United States who is at least eighteen years of age and who is a permanent resident of the state …” to “Only a citizen …” It’s a distinction without a practical difference. Whether you vote for or against matters little.
Amendment 2 gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. Florida’s minimum wage is now $8.56, indexed to inflation.
Supporters, led by activist lawyer John Morgan, claim that falls far short of providing a livable income, said to be $55,000 for a family of four.
The impact could be considerable in Southwest Florida, with its slew of restaurant, hotel and farm workers. Jim Wall of CareerSource Southwest Florida said the boost in minimum wage could add $120 billion to the local economy by 2024.
Opponents see nothing but carnage. Amendment 2, they say, would be a death knell to small businesses. Mark Wilson of the Florida Chamber of Commerce wrote, “We’d lose over 500,000 jobs in Florida.” Carol Dover of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association added, “We need to be sure these [low-income] people understand they literally could be voting themselves out of a job.”
The irony is, by 2026 most of the country will have a minimum wage well beyond $15 an hour.
Amendment 3, the dreaded ‘jungle primary,’ would open the primary election for governor, the legislature and cabinet to all voters regardless of party affiliation, with the top two vote getters progressing to the general election. That could be two Republicans, two Democrats or one from each party.
Spurred by an ‘All Voters Vote’ campaign, the amendment claims to enfranchise 4 million independents now shut out of closed primaries. Supporter Mike Fernandez said, “Florida is among only a handful of states that do not allow all qualified voters to participate in primary elections. How backward is that?”
Neither Republican nor Democrat officials want anything to do with the amendment. They argue it robs registered voters of both parties the right to choose their own candidate. Florida Republican Party attorney Benjamin Gibson said, “The amendment redefines what has worked well in Florida for over a century.”
Amendment 4 would require 60% voter approval of proposed constitutional amendments in two successive statewide elections. “The vote is so nice, we’re doing it twice.”
Proponents say that would do away with whimsical amendments and help keep the constitution clean. They point out the Florida constitution has been amended an unconscionable 140 times in the past 60 years.
Detractors say this is nothing more than a power play by a partisan legislature to make it difficult for citizen groups to have a say in lawmaking. Over the past 20 years, 79% of amendments that made the ballot were approved. But what if supporters had to mount costly campaigns not once, but twice? The legislature is betting few will have the financial chops to stay the course.
Amendment 5 would extend from 2 to 3 years the period a person can transfer Save Our Homesbenefits to a new homestead property. Little controversy here.
Amendment 6 would allow a homestead property tax discount to be transferred to the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran. Again, little controversy.
To learn what the experts think, go to the Collier County website, find “Stay Connected” and punch on “Meeting Video Archives.” Once accessed, go to “Archived Videos” and view “2020 Election Amendments forum.”
A retired Pfizer executive, Dave Trecker serves on a number of local boards.