Pinellas County Commissioners defy voter-approved term limits

Of the 20 charter counties in Florida, voters in 11 have overwhelmingly approved term limits for their county commissions. Ten of them recognize and respect the law.

The exception is Pinellas County.

In 1996, 73 percent of voters in Pinellas approved a countywide referendum that limited their county commissioners and county constitutional officers to eight years in office. Since then, a split Florida Supreme Court in Cook (2002) decided that counties don’t have the right to impose term limits on constitutional officers. But the Pinellas County commission decided the Cook decision applied to them as well even though the Supreme Court never ruled on commissioner limits in Cook or any other decision.

Until this year. In May, the Supreme Court not only clearly affirmed the constitutionality of county commissioner term limits, but also overturned its previous ruling in Cook regarding constitutional officers.

There is no longer any question whatever about the legality of county term limits in the state of Florida. Sarasota County – the only other county that was defying their voter-approved term limits law – accepted the Supreme Court decision and is now enforcing their popular 8-year term limits.

And yet, the Pinellas county commissioners continue to claim the law does not apply to them. The commissioners do not believe this is true. They simply want to keep their well-paid positions of power and are willing to brazenly defy the law – overwhelmingly approved by the people — in order to keep them.

In Pinellas County, 8-year term limits are currently in the charter. It was never amended to remove them. There is no court ruling that nullified the county commission term limits. On the contrary, there is now a Florida Supreme Court ruling explicitly affirming them.

It is not as if the voters are calling for their repeal. In 2009, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 79 percent of voters in the greater Bay area believe that their politicians should be term limited. Furthermore, the polling suggested that 78 percent prefer that the proper term limit is eight years and opposed longer limits.

Pinellas County commissioners should act honorably and obey the law. The four who have exceeded their legal term limit should resign before being forced to do so by the courts.

Citizen Watchdog Summit: Exposing Voter Fraud in Florida

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity has joined forces with Americans For Prosperity and True the Vote for a very special program! Join us for the Citizen Watchdog Summit: Exposing Voter Fraud in Florida. This will be a two day program of speakers and training that you don’t want to miss!

All eyes are on Florida at election time! Examples of deception, voter irregularities, and illegitimate intent are rampant: Voter Fraud does occur and we want to get the message out! We need to tell the truth about voter fraud even when the establishment media refuses to do so. In addition to tackling this hot issue, we will give you tools to expose and report on the local issues important to us all.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida, True the Vote and the Franklin Center’s Citizen Watchdog program is thrilled to host a two-day summit in South Florida. Please join us on Friday July 27th for an opening night dinner and Saturday, July 28, from 9am to 5pm at the Boca Raton Marriott to learn how you can get involved to hold our elected officials accountable, spread the message and help prevent voter fraud and set this country on a better path for future generations.

You will learn the best tools and techniques in investigative journalism, new media, and opposition research to help you identify and combat voter fraud.

Click here for more information about this event!

We’ll be joined by some of the nation’s leading experts in Election Integrity and citizen journalism. Join us to hear from such leaders as:

• John Fund, Voter Integrity Expert, senior editor of The American Spectator and author of Stealing Elections
• Hannah Giles, whistle blower, activist who helped uncover the unlawful practices of Acorn
• Guy Benson, TownHall.com
• Catherine Englebrecht, True the Vote
• MORE TBA

Click here to register!

For only $45 per person (the cost of meals and materials), you will learn:

– How Election Integrity can change the course of history
– How and when voter fraud occurs
– What simple task you can do to prevent the corruption of the voter booth
Plus:
– How to use investigative reporting tools and skills
– How to enhance state transparency with open records laws
– How to hold elected officials accountable through social media
– Legal tools to protect your liberties and empower citizens

Together, we can continue the hard, but important job of taking back America.

Citizen Watchdog Summit: Exposing Voter Fraud in Florida
July 27, 2012 6:30– 9pm Dinner w/ Special Guest John Fund
July 28, 2012 9-5pm Program Training
Boca Raton Marriott at Boca Center
5150 Town Center Circle
Boca Raton, FL 33486

Below please find a complete program agenda for the full two-day training. If you are not able to join us this time, sign up to receive updates on future Franklin Center trainings in Florida.

Citizen Watchdog Summit: Exposing Voter Fraud in Florida
Franklin Center * True The Vote * Americans for Prosperity
July 27-28 – Boca Raton, FL

Friday, July 27

5:30-6pm- Registration

6-9pm- Dinner With Keynote Speaker John Fund

Saturday, July 28

8:30am Continental breakfast

9:00-11:00 am, True The Vote Info and Training

Timeline: Bill Ouren

Teambuilding: Vicki Pullen

Research: Mark Antill

Taking Action in Florida: Catherine Engelbrecht

11:00-11:30am- Exposing the Establishment Media

Hannah Giles, ACORN Whistleblower

11:30- Noon, Intro to Citizen Watchdog Program

Mary Ellen Beatty, Franklin Center

Noon-1pm, Lunch with Guy Benson, TownHall.com

1-2, Investigative Reporting

Yael Ossowski, Florida Watchdog

2-2:45pm- Using Social Media to Hold Your Elected Officials Accountable

Javier Manjarres, The Shark Tank (Florida state blog), http://shark-tank.net/

2:45-3:00pm- Break

3:00-3:30pm- Florida Open Records Law

Jerry Couey, Citizen watchdog from Pensacola

3:30-4:15pm- Understanding Florida’s Key Legislative Issues in 2012

Slade O’Brien, AFP-FL

4:15-5:00pm- Strategic Research: Learning to Vet Important Public Figures

Mary Ellen Beatty, Franklin Center

Over 140 New Florida Laws Took Effect on July 1, 2012

As of July 1, 2012 over 140 new Florida laws took effect. To view a complete list of the new laws click here.

The following are some of the laws passed during the 2012 session and now in effect.

HB 7127 Relating to School Improvement and Education Accountability – Education Committee

School Improvement and Education Accountability: Revises provisions relating to implementation of public school improvement, including use of school improvement plans, corrective actions, intervention & support strategies, & school turnaround options; revises provisions relating to school grading system. Effective Date: July 1, 2012

HB 7087 Relating to Economic Development – Finance & Tax Committee

Economic Development: Provides exemption from intangible tax for lessees performing governmental, municipal, or public purpose or function; establishes funding source for H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute from portion of cigarette tax collections; establishes purposes for which funding to H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute may be used; revises excise tax rates levied upon each ton of phosphate rock severed; defines term “mature field recovery oil” & applies to such oil tiered severance tax rates applicable to tertiary oil; provides exemption from tax on sales, use, & other transactions for electricity used by packinghouses; expands exemptions from sales & use tax on labor, parts, & equipment used in repairs of certain aircraft; provides exemption from tax on sales, use, & other transactions for sale or lease of accessible taxicabs; revises eligibility criteria for tax credits under Urban High-Crime Area Job Tax Credit Program; increases amount of income that is exempt from franchise tax imposed on banks & savings associations, etc. Effective Date: July 1, 2012

HB 7059 Relating to Acceleration Options in Public Education – K-20 Innovation Subcommittee

Acceleration Options in Public Education; Provides for Academically Challenging Curriculum to Enhance Learning (ACCEL) options to provide eligible public school students educational options that provide academically challenging curriculum or accelerated instruction; requires school district to adopt policy for early graduation; provides for career-themed courses; revises provisions relating to articulated acceleration mechanisms & dual enrollment programs; provides requirements for development & contents of school district & Florida College System institution articulation agreement; requires comprehensive student progression plan to include information on accelerated educational options; provides reporting requirements for student funding; provides for calculation of additional FTE membership based on completion of career-themed courses & early graduation. Effective Date: July 1, 2012

HB 7003 Relating to Environmental Resource Permitting – Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee

Environmental Resource Permitting; Requires DEP, in coordination with water management districts, to develop statewide resource permitting rules for activities relating to management & storage of surface waters; preserves exemption from causes of action under “Bert J. Harris, Jr., Private Property Rights Protection Act”; provides exemption from Administrative Procedure Act; requires counties, municipalities, & delegated local pollution control programs to amend ordinances & regulations; provides applicability, effect, & repeal of specified rules; provides presumption of compliance for certain stormwater management systems; provides exemptions for specified stormwater management systems & permitted activities. Effective Date: July 1, 2012

HB 5701 Relating to Taxation – Finance & Tax Committee

Taxation: Requires that deductions for cost of collecting & enforcing documentary stamp tax & for specified service charge be available for payment of certain obligations secured by such tax revenues with respect to bonds authorized before specified date; provides for collection of allowances of amount of tax due by persons who file returns only by electronic means & pay amount due on such returns only by electronic means; adopts 2012 version of Internal Revenue Code for purposes of ch. 220, F.S.; changes filing date for estimated tax under certain circumstances; requires DOR to provide adequate notice to affected taxpayers relating to earlier due dates for making estimated payment, etc. Effective Date: July 1, 2012

Eleven Constitutional Amendments on FL Ballot

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.