Bundled Amendments Will Stay on Florida's Ballot

An effort to strike Amendments 7, 9 and 11 failed Wednesday when the Florida Supreme Court unanimously OK'd the three initiatives for November's ballot.
by | October 17, 2018 AT 7:40 PM

By Andrew Pantazi

An effort to strike Amendments 7, 9 and 11 failed Wednesday when the Florida Supreme Court unanimously OK'd the three initiatives for November's ballot.

A former Supreme Court justice had sued the state arguing that the three amendments violated voters' First Amendment rights by bundling unrelated topics in a single amendment proposal. Although a Leon County judge had agreed with him, the Supreme Court vociferously smacked down that argument.

"Neither Appellees nor the circuit court supply any analysis in support of the bald assertion of a potential constitutional violation," the Supreme Court opinion said. "Appellees merely assert that they have a right to vote for a proposition without voting against an unrelated proposition, a novel theory with no apparent support in the law."

While the three amendments were already included on ballots, the Supreme Court had to decide whether it should invalidate the initiatives.

Amendment 7 would require a supermajority vote by public university trustees before increasing tuition costs or fees. The amendment would also require the state pay benefits to the surviving family members of first responders and military members.

Amendment 9 would ban offshore oil drilling on state-owned waters and would ban vaping in workplaces.

Amendment 11 deletes three parts of the Constitution: a provision that said the Legislature could discriminate against certain types of immigrants -- originally, it was aimed at discriminating against Asian immigrants; an obsolete provision about high-speed rail; and a provision that banned the Legislature from reducing past sentences.

Asian-American groups have long called for the repeal of what's called the Alien Land Law, a provision of the constitution that allowed the Legislature to determine if "aliens ineligible for citizenship" could own property. At the time the amendment took effect, the immigrants who were ineligible for citizenship were from Asia. However, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar California proposal, and Florida's version was never enforced.

Still, Asian-American groups have said it's important to remove what they believe is racist language.

Amendment 11 could also substantially transform Florida's prison system. Right now, Florida is the only state in the country that constitutionally bans its legislature from reducing sentences.

Someone sentenced for a drug crime in June 2014, for example, would face a sentence that's five times longer than someone sentenced a month later, according to a Constitution Revision Commission staff analysis.

Jacksonville Public Defender Charlie Cofer said the amendment was necessary because it allows the Legislature to right its past wrongs.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Florida Public Defenders Association and the Republican Party of Florida all endorsed the amendment, and former American Bar Association President Sandy D'Alemberte said it would be the state's most progressive justice reform since the creation of public defenders.

The amendment's main opposition has come from some of the state's newspaper editorial boards. The Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald's editorial boards, for example, urged voters to reject Amendment 11 because it would be too favorable to gun defendants.

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers had written in her opinion that Amendment 11 was misleading due to a ballot summary that said it "removes discriminatory language related to real property rights." Gievers said the language "hides the effect of the vote from the voter." The Supreme Court, however, didn't buy Gievers' argument, saying that the summary was "an accurate description of what the proposed amendment would do."

Sens. Jeff Brandes and Darryl Rouson, a Republican and Democrat from St. Petersburg, had said if the amendment was removed from the ballot, they would work together to get it on 2020's ballot.

This wasn't the first time Judge Gievers was overturned. She also had said that Amendment 13 should be struck from the ballot, another decision the state Supreme Court overturned.

(c)2018 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)