By Dr. Rich Swier – There are eleven amendments to the Florida Constitution on the November 6, 2012 ballot. Two deal with religious freedom, two address veterans issues, one on public funding of abortions, one on health services, one on the state courts, four dealing with taxes and homestead exemptions and one on the college/university system. All of the amendments were placed on the ballot by the Florida legislature.
The following is a brief description of each of the Florida Constitutional Amendments:
Amendment 1 – Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to prohibit laws or rules from compelling any person or employer to purchase, obtain, or otherwise provide for health care coverage; permit a person or an employer to purchase lawful health care services directly from a health care provider; permit a health care provider to accept direct payment from a person or an employer for lawful health care services; exempt persons, employers, and health care providers from penalties and taxes for paying directly or accepting direct payment for lawful health care services; and prohibit laws or rules from abolishing the private market for health care coverage of any lawful health care service. Specifies that the amendment does not affect which health care services a health care provider is required to perform or provide; affect which health care services are permitted by law; prohibit care provided pursuant to general law relating to workers’ compensation; affect laws or rules in effect as of March 1, 2010; affect the terms or conditions of any health care system to the extent that those terms and conditions do not have the effect of punishing a person or an employer for paying directly for lawful health care services or a health care provider for accepting direct payment from a person or an employer for lawful health care services; or affect any general law passed by two-thirds vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature, passed after the effective date of the amendment, provided such law states with specificity the public necessity justifying the exceptions from the provisions of the amendment. The amendment expressly provides that it may not be construed to prohibit negotiated provisions in insurance contracts, network agreements, or other provider agreements contractually limiting copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, or other patient charges.
Amendment 2 – Proposing an amendment to Section 6 of Article VII and the creation of Section 32 of Article XII of the State Constitution to expand the availability of the property discount on the homesteads of veterans who became disabled as the result of a combat injury to include those who were not Florida residents when they entered the military and schedule the amendment to take effect January 1, 2013.
Amendment 3 – This proposed amendment to the State Constitution replaces the existing state revenue limitation based on Florida personal income growth with a new state revenue limitation based on inflation and population changes. Under the amendment, state revenues, as defined in the amendment, collected in excess of the revenue limitation must be deposited into the budget stabilization fund until the fund reaches its maximum balance, and thereafter shall be used for the support and maintenance of public schools by reducing the minimum financial effort required from school districts for participation in a state-funded education finance program, or, if the minimum financial effort is no longer required, returned to the taxpayers. The Legislature may increase the state revenue limitation through a bill approved by a super majority vote of each house of the Legislature. The Legislature may also submit a proposed increase in the state revenue limitation to the voters. The Legislature must implement this proposed amendment by general law. The amendment will take effect upon approval by the electors and will first apply to the 2014-2015 state fiscal year.
Amendment 4 – (1) This would amend Florida Constitution Article VII, Section 4 (Taxation; assessments) and Section 6 (Homestead exemptions). It also would amend Article XII, Section 27, and add Sections 32 and 33, relating to the Schedule for the amendments. (2) In certain circumstances, the law requires the assessed value of homestead and specified nonhomestead property to increase when the just value of the property decreases. Therefore, this amendment provides that the Legislature may, by general law, provide that the assessment of homestead and specified nonhomestead property may not increase if the just value of that property is less than the just value of the property on the preceding January 1, subject to any adjustment in the assessed value due to changes, additions, reductions, or improvements to such property which are assessed as provided for by general law. This amendment takes effect upon approval by the voters. If approved at a special election held on the date of the 2012 presidential preference primary, it shall operate retroactively to January 1, 2012, or, if approved at the 2012 general election, shall take effect January 1, 2013. (3) This amendment reduces from 10 percent to 5 percent the limitation on annual changes in assessments of nonhomestead real property. This amendment takes effect upon approval of the voters. If approved at a special election held on the date of the 2012 presidential preference primary, it shall operate retroactively to January 1, 2012, or, if approved at the 2012 general election, takes effect January 1, 2013. (4) This amendment also authorizes general law to provide, subject to conditions specified in such law, an additional homestead exemption to every person who establishes the right to receive the homestead exemption provided in the Florida Constitution within 1 year after purchasing the homestead property and who has not owned property in the previous 3 calendar years to which the Florida homestead exemption applied. The additional homestead exemption shall apply to all levies except school district levies. The additional exemption is an amount equal to 50 percent of the homestead property’s just value on January 1 of the year the homestead is established. The additional homestead exemption may not exceed an amount equal to the median just value of all homestead property within the county where the property at issue is located for the calendar year immediately preceding January 1 of the year the homestead is established. The additional exemption shall apply for the shorter of 5 years or the year of sale of the property. The amount of the additional exemption shall be reduced in each subsequent year by an amount equal to 20 percent of the amount of the additional exemption received in the year the homestead was established or by an amount equal to the difference between the just value of the property and the assessed value of the property determined under Article VII, Section 4(d), whichever is greater. Not more than one such exemption shall be allowed per homestead property at one time. The additional exemption applies to property purchased on or after January 1, 2011, if approved by the voters at a special election held on the date of the 2012 presidential preference primary, or to property purchased on or after January 1, 2012, if approved by the voters at the 2012 general election. The additional exemption is not available in the sixth and subsequent years after it is first received. The amendment shall take effect upon approval by the voters. If approved at a special election held on the date of the 2012 presidential preference primary, it shall operate retroactively to January 1, 2012, or, if approved at the 2012 general election, takes effect January 1, 2013. (5) This amendment also delays until 2023, the repeal, currently scheduled to take effect in 2019, of constitutional amendments adopted in 2008 which limit annual assessment increases for specified nonhomestead real property. This amendment delays until 2022 the submission of an amendment proposing the abrogation of such repeal to the voters.
Amendment 5 – Proposing a revision of Article V of the State Constitution relating to the judiciary. The State Constitution authorizes the Supreme Court to adopt rules for the practice and procedure in all courts. The constitution further provides that a rule of court may be repealed by a general law enacted by a two-thirds vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature. This proposed constitutional revision eliminates the requirement that a general law repealing a court rule pass by a two-thirds vote of each house, thereby providing that the Legislature may repeal a rule of court by a general law approved by a majority vote of each house of the Legislature that expresses the policy behind the repeal. The court could readopt the rule in conformity with the public policy expressed by the Legislature, but if the Legislature determines that a rule has been readopted and repeals the readopted rule, this proposed revision prohibits the court from further readopting the repealed rule without the Legislature’s prior approval. Under current law, rules of the judicial nominating commissions and the Judicial Qualifications Commission may be repealed by general law enacted by a majority vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature. Under this proposed revision, a vote to repeal those rules is changed to repeal by general law enacted by a majority vote of the legislators present. Under current law, the Governor appoints a justice of the Supreme Court from a list of nominees provided by a judicial nominating commission, and appointments by the Governor are not subject to confirmation. This revision requires Senate confirmation of a justice of the Supreme Court before the appointee can take office. If the Senate votes not to confirm the appointment, the judicial nominating commission must reconvene and may not renominate any person whose prior appointment to fill the same vacancy was not confirmed by the Senate. For the purpose of confirmation, the Senate may meet at any time. If the Senate fails to vote on the appointment of a justice within 90 days, the justice will be deemed confirmed and will take office. The Judicial Qualifications Commission is an independent commission created by the State Constitution to investigate and prosecute before the Florida Supreme Court alleged misconduct by a justice or judge. Currently under the constitution, commission proceedings are confidential until formal charges are filed by the investigative panel of the commission. Once formal charges are filed, the formal charges and all further proceedings of the commission are public. Currently, the constitution authorizes the House of Representatives to impeach a justice or judge. Further, the Speaker of the House of Representatives may request, and the Judicial Qualifications Commission must make available, all information in the commission’s possession for use in deciding whether to impeach a justice or judge. This proposed revision requires the commission to make all of its files available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives but provides that such files would remain confidential during any investigation by the House of Representatives and until such information is used in the pursuit of an impeachment of a justice or judge. This revision also removes the power of the Governor to request files of the Judicial Qualifications Commission to conform to a prior constitutional change. This revision also makes technical and clarifying additions and deletions relating to the selection of chief judges of a circuit and relating to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, and makes other nonsubstantive conforming and technical changes in the judicial article of the constitution.
Amendment 6 – This proposed amendment provides that public funds may not be expended for any abortion or for health-benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. This prohibition does not apply to an expenditure required by federal law, a case in which a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would place her in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, or a case of rape or incest. This proposed amendment provides that the State Constitution may not be interpreted to create broader rights to an abortion than those contained in the United States Constitution. With respect to abortion, this proposed amendment overrules court decisions which conclude that the right of privacy under Article I, Section 23 of the State Constitution is broader in scope than that of the United States Constitution.
Amendment 7 – REMOVED
Amendment 8 – Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding or other support, except as required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.
Amendment 9 – Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize the Legislature to provide by general law ad valorem homestead property tax relief to the surviving spouse of a military veteran who died from service- connected causes while on active duty or to the surviving spouse of a first responder who died in the line of duty. The amendment authorizes the Legislature to totally exempt or partially exempt such surviving spouse’s homestead property from ad valorem taxation. The amendment defines a first responder as a law enforcement officer, a correctional officer, a firefighter, an emergency medical technician, or a paramedic. This amendment shall take effect January 1, 2013.
Amendment 10 – Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to: (1) Provide an exemption from ad valorem taxes levied by counties, municipalities, school districts, and other local governments on tangible personal property if the assessed value of an owner’s tangible personal property is greater than $25,000 but less than $50,000. This new exemption, if approved by the voters, will take effect on January 1, 2013, and apply to the 2013 tax roll and subsequent tax rolls. (2) Authorize a county or municipality for the purpose of its respective levy, and as provided by general law, to provide tangible personal property tax exemptions by ordinance. This is in addition to other statewide tangible personal property tax exemptions provided by the Constitution and this amendment.
Amendment 11 – Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize the Legislature, by general law and subject to conditions set forth in the general law, to allow counties and municipalities to grant an additional homestead tax exemption equal to the assessed value of homestead property if the property has a just value less than $250,000 to an owner who has maintained permanent residency on the property for not less than 25 years, who has attained age 65, and who has a low household income as defined by general law.
Amendment 12 – Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to replace the president of the Florida Student Association with the chair of the council of state university student body presidents as the student member of the Board of Governors of the State University System and to require that the Board of Governors organize such council of state university student body presidents.
Each Amendment to the Florida Constitution will be sent in a pre-ballot to each registered voter. Voters may review the exact language of each Constitutional amendment.