Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici

In Florida this election, we have 11 constitutional amendments on the ballot. 11! I think the entire state Constitution ought to have 3 Articles, and consist of no more than 2 pages. A Constitution ought to be the big, overarching umbrella that sets up the purpose of the government, how it will be set up, and how long it will last. Everything else is of a temporary nature, subject to change, and should be the stuff of changeable law.

One of the Constitutional Amendments is explained as such:

Property Tax Limitations; Property Value Decline; Reduction for Nonhomestead Assessment Increases; Delay of Scheduled Repeal

The summary of the proposed Amendment runs to several hundred words—the text itself is almost indecipherable, filled with formulae for determining how the property tax will be determined in the years 2013 – 2017. It’s that specific. After 2017, despite the detail of the Amendment, I guess we’re on our own. Or maybe it’ll be time for another Amendment. Shouldn’t that minutiae that should be determined at the legislative level? I suppose not, if the Legislature doesn’t want to be blamed for raising taxes.

Of course, Florida was also the state back in 2002 that passed a constitutional amendment to ban the crating of pregnant pigs, causing one of the two pig farmers in the state to close his doors.

Why do these things end up in the Constitution? Because the Florida legislature is recalcitrant and refuses to enact all of the proposed laws presented to it (sound familiar?). Due to this intransigence, folks with an agenda tend to bypass the legislative body and take their case directly to the voters (sound familiar?).

That’s the way that a high-speed rail became the law of our land—at least the concept of a high speed rail was added to the Constitution in 2000. It was removed in 2004. An actual high speed rail? Construction was supposed to begin in 2011, but was derailed (pun intended) by Governor Rick Scott, who refused the federal matching funds (sound familiar?).

Because some people can’t get the Florida Legislature to do what they want, the Florida Constitution grows more unwieldy and cumbersome. But that’s not a problem. Any time it seems to be out of step, just amend it again. What’s the problem with that?

When the Constitution, the basic protector of our rights, becomes as changeable as the seasons, so does our concept of how permanent our rights are. When the Constitution is filled with formulae and pig farming, we start to think that our rights must be spelled out in great detail, and that they are consistent only with that great detail. Our responsibility to think and perform in accordance with our own moral code is reduced to abiding by whatever specific statements were approved by voters in the last election, less the ones that were repealed.

We, the people of the State of Florida, being grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty, in order to secure its benefits, perfect our government, insure domestic tranquility, maintain public order, and guarantee equal civil and political rights to all, do ordain and establish this constitution.

The Preamble to the Florida Constitution, as revised in 1968. Except that, in 2008, the citizens of the State of Florida adopted Article 1, Section 27:

Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

Whatever you may think of the definition of marriage, it doesn’t look like the precepts of the Preamble managed to be carried out all the way down to Section 27. At least one of those “equal civil and political rights” guaranteed to all, have suddenly been restricted to “only one man and one woman”.

That’s the problem with amending the Constitution instead of enacting legislation. It’s bad enough when one law conflicts with another, and that mess has to be sorted out. It’s really bad when an aspiration set out in one part of the Constitution conflicts with a prohibition in another part. Which is to prevail? Accepted legal practice would require that a later amendment should overrule any previous statement, as the latest expression of the people’s will.

If the people, having once stated that equal civil and political rights are to be extended to all, start making exceptions to those rights, how much credence can be put into the original statement at all? Two things happen when we start to restrict such broad rights: it’s hard to determine what rights are left, and we start to believe that rights come from the government, instead of citizens granting the government certain, limited rights.

Want to know what other amendments are on the ballot? Glad you asked.

1. Health Care Services: This is the Florida response to Obamacare. It prohibits the legislature from enacting laws to force people or businesses to purchase health care.

2. Veterans Disabled Due to Combat Injury; Homestead Property Tax Discount. Extends the discount to veterans who were citizens of another state when they entered the military.

3. State Government Revenue Limitation. Even though it says revenue limitation, this looks like a way for the legislature to raise taxes without having to take the heat for it, but I have to admit, it is difficult to understand.

4. The property tax limitation amendment I discussed above.

5. State Courts. This one seems to mung up the Judicial branch with the Legislative, granting the legislature the power to repeal a court rule by a simple majority rather than the previous two-thirds majority. Seems like the Judicial branch has been making rules that the Legislature doesn’t like.

6. Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions; Construction of Abortion Rights. Restricts abortion rights to those granted by federal law—the Florida courts had previously granted broader rights.

#7 was removed from the ballot.

8. Religious Freedom. Deletes the prohibition against using state funds directly or indirectly in favor of any church. I think this has to do with vouchers for religious schools.

9. Homestead Property Tax Exemption for Surviving Spouse of Military Veteran or First Responder.

10. Tangible Personal Property Tax Exemption. Extends the exemption from $25,000 to $50,000.

11. Additional Homestead Exemption; Low-Income Seniors Who Maintain Long-Term Residency on Property; Equal to Assessed Value. People who are 65, who have lived on their property for 25 years, have a low household income, and whose property is worth less than $250,000 will pay no property tax.

Have fun at the polls!


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1 Comment

Filed under Critical Thinking, Education, Elections, Politics

One response to “Amendments

  1. Great article.
    We should see the Constitutions as the foundation of any type of government and not a “catch all” for every wimp that man can think up. As you stated correctly, “When the Constitution, the basic protector of our rights, becomes as changeable as the seasons, so does our concept of how permanent our rights are” and that should never happen but it does as people, in general, don’t know what they want. And if their law makers will not make the laws that the people want then kick them out of office.

    The Amendments to any constitution should be viewed as “etched in stone.” And not to be repealed every time as we really say, “Oh we made a mistake.”

    Now 11 amendments to the Florida Constitution? Somebody is just not doing their job. So let the people put it in the constitution and later on, they will say, “Oh we made a mistake” let’s change the constitution again and again and again.

    Again, the Constitutions are the foundation of any government as it should be kept short and hopefully will cover all matters of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Thus it should be rare to add an amendment to it! And once it’s there make sure you want it because if you don’t later on and repeal it, then the document becomes nothing more than somebody’s soapbox and “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” can be trampled on.

    I’ll stop here.

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