TALLAHASSEE — So much for grass-roots efforts. If anyone tells you the constitutional amendment process is a means for regular citizens to avoid the courts or the Legislature, think again.
Currently seven of nine proposal constitutional amendments slated to greet voters in November are facing some sort of legal challenges. Four of those amendments, all crafted by lawmakers, are in court while another is embroiled in litigation before the Florida Elections Commission.
Two proposed constitutional amendments crafted by the Florida Legislature have been thrown out and another faces a strong possibility of the same fate when combatants meet next week. All are expected to be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which must rule before absentee ballots start being sent in September.
Less than a day after hearing arguments, Circuit Judge John Cooper on Friday tossed Amendment 3 from the November ballot, saying the measure’s ballot title and summary could lead voters to incorrectly assume they were eligible for additional homestead exemption benefits, which are in fact limited to some buyers of homes purchased after Jan. 1, 2010.
On July 8, Circuit Judge James Shelfer struck another amendment adopted by lawmakers earlier this year. Amendment 7, an attempt to nullify the effects of Amendments 5 & 6 dealing with political redistricting, was so convoluted Shelfer said it took him three days to divine what the proposal would do.
Shelfer is expected to hear arguments July 29 on another piece of legislative handiwork. Amendment 9 would prevent the state from requiring citizens to carry health insurance. It was drawn up in response to federal health reform legislation passed earlier this year.
The state is already worried. Last week, state attorneys unsuccessfully tried to change the Amendment 9 ballot language, presumably to avoid the measure being thrown out next week for being misleading. Shelfer summarily dismissed the request, saying he had no authority to re-write legislation.
Meanwhile, the Florida Education Association on Friday filed suit in a Tallahassee circuit court against Amendment 8, another legislative initiative to relax restrictions placed on class sizes by voters in 2002.
The FEA contends passage of Amendment 8 would reduce the state’s constitutional funding obligation to public schools by giving local districts more flexibility in determining how many students could be taught in a single classroom. The ballot language, the group claims, is misleading.
Backers say the proposal would allow school administrators more flexibility in responding to the needs of particular schools without throwing out the protections envisioned by the original amendment. Critics counter that voters were explicit in wanting smaller class sizes and relaxing the standards would inevitably lead to some classes having more students than specified in the original amendment.
The only non-legislative proposal facing some legal question is Amendment 4, which would require voters to approve local comprehensive plan changes. Sponsor Hometown Democracy is again in the Florida Chamber of Commerce cross-hairs.
The business group filed an elections complaint against Hometown Democracy arguing it improperly accounted for some campaign contributions. As examples, the chamber highlighted a $100 cash payment in excess of the $50 limit and another $20 in cash that was anonymously given. The chamber also listed 72 checks received from donors who did not give their occupations.
E-mail Michael Peltier at email@example.com.