Most of Florida’s constitutional amendments fail
TALLAHASSEE — An unprecedented push by Florida Republicans to allow more state funding of religious programs, restrict abortion rights, ban the required purchase of health insurance and oust three Democrat-appointed Supreme Court justices was headed for failure Tuesday.
Forced to wade through a historically long ballot with 11 legislatively drawn constitutional amendments, voters defeated an effort to give beefier property-tax breaks to new- and second-home owners and businesses. Three amendments providing property tax breaks to poor seniors, veterans and their spouses had narrowly exceeded the 60 percent necessary for passage.
•Republican lawmakers opposed to President Barack Obama‘s federal health-care reform wrote Amendment 1 to spell out in the state constitution that Florida couldn’t impose its own health-care mandate, although it would have no impact on the federal law. It garnered only 48 percent of the votes cast.
•Flustered by their inability to pass stronger abortion restrictions, lawmakers put Amendment 6 on the ballot — which would have prohibited state funding of abortion services or insurance coverage that covered abortions, and also removed the privacy protection in the constitution that had prevented stronger parental-consent laws from surviving legal challenges. It failed with 45 percent of the votes.
•In a battle between religious groups and teachers unions, voters flunked Amendment 8 to delete the ban on public funds going directly or indirectly to any church, sect or religious denomination or to aid any sectarian institution. It won just 44 percent of the vote.
•Lawmakers angered by recent state Supreme Court rulings even went after the court’s own rule-making power with an amendment that would allow the Legislature to invalidate court rules by simple majority and give the Senate confirmation power of the governor’s Supreme Court nominations. Amendment 5 failed with 37 percent of the votes.
•Voters also defeated another conservative cause in Amendment 3 to replace an existing state revenue cap based on personal-income growth with one tied to inflation and population changes. It drew just 42 percent.
• A business lobby-backed Amendment 10 to double the $25,000 exemption on equipment subject to the “tangible personal property” tax paid by businesses got just 45 percent of the vote.
Even the normally non-controversial question of retaining judges became a partisan battlefront after the Republican Party of Florida and conservative groups targeted three state Supreme Court justices standing for merit retention.
Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince all easily survived the challenge, thanks to a $5 million infusion of campaign cash from trial lawyers and progressive groups. The justices needed only a simple majority to keep their seats and each drew more than 67 percent of the vote.
The only amendments that appeared headed for passage would give property-tax breaks for low-income seniors, combat-disabled veterans and surviving spouses of veterans and first responders. An 11th amendment about selection of the student representative on the Florida Board of Governors failed.
The question that generated the biggest campaign was the property-tax break Amendment 4, backed by $4.5 million from the Florida Realtors and opposed by cities and counties.
The amendment failed with 43 percent of the vote, and would have created a five-year homestead exemption equal to 50 percent of assessed value for new homeowners and changes from 10 percent to 5 percent the cap on annual changes in assessments of businesses and second homes.
Realtors argued it would kick-start the real-estate market, while local governments complained it would cost them $1.68 billion in lost property-tax revenues through 2016.
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