Adding language from 11 newly passed amendments to Florida’s Constitution will swell the state’s guiding document to more than 50,000 words, according to Don Brown, a former legislator and member of a group called Save My Constitution.
“When we compare that to the U.S. Constitution, which has less than 9,000 words, that ought to tell us something,” Brown said. “The Florida Constitution is getting very bloated.”
Brown’s group, which called for state voters to reject all 12 constitutional amendment proposals offered on Tuesday’s ballot, believes a state’s constitution should be a document people can “understand and depend on.”
“The constitution should protect fundamental rights, rights provided to citizens, not by the Legislature but by their maker, long before constitutions even existed,” Brown has said.
Brown said he was disappointed “for the people of Florida” that 11 of the 12 constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot attained the needed 60 percent voter approval required for passage.
“I don’t mind accepting the will of the people,” he said. “I just have some serious concerns about whether people really understood the full scope of what they were voting on.”
Most voters saw only the ballot language when deciding whether to support a particular amendment, Brown said, and not the entire amendment as proposed.
One amendment, he said, is 40 paragraphs long.
With the passage of the 11 amendments, Floridians have now etched into the state constitution — among many other things — bans on greyhound racing, vaping in public places and offshore drilling within nine miles of the state’s beaches.
The single proposal that didn’t pass, Constitutional Revision 1, would have provided a greater homestead exemption on property taxes for homes valued between $100,000 and $125,000.
Amendment 1 would have passed if only Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties had been voting on the issue, records show. But Amendment 4, which returns voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentences, would have failed miserably in all three counties.
Interestingly, Amendment 13, which banned greyhound racing, passed by the thinnest of margins, 60.01 percent, in Walton County. The Ebro race track is just over the Walton County line in Holmes County.
Holmes County voters flatly rejected the racing ban.
Paul Lux, Okaloosa County’s supervisor of elections, found it surprising that Amendment 1, of all of the proposals, was rejected. Taxpayers usually jump at the chance to give themselves a break, he said.
But, Lux added, “I’ve long since given up trying to guess why voters do one thing or another.”
“You might as well use a Ouija board,” as ask him why 11 amendment proposals passed Tuesday, he said.
“There does always seem to be some support for a number of the amendment questions,” he said.
Former state Sen. Don Gaetz, who served on the Constitution Revision Commission, said passage of all seven amendment proposals the group put on the ballot served as vindication for the commission and its work.
“I guess despite all of the criticism offered by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, despite the opposing views of most of the editorial boards across the state, the Constitution Revision Commission’s work was universally affirmed by the voters,” he said. “This CRC was the first in Florida history to have 100 percent of its recommended amendments passed by the voters.”
Gaetz said he was particularly pleased to see an amendment to strengthen ethics in politics, which he sponsored, passed by the widest margin of any of the 11proposals.
“The voters apparently were smart enough to read the simple language and to vote yes or no, and more than 60 percent of them voted yes on all the ones we proposed,” he said. “I guess it shows voters can read and can make their own decisions.”
Although the Constitution Revision Commission convenes just once every 20 years, Brown said the work of Save Our Constitution will continue. He said the organization’s next goal will be to get a constitutional amendment proposal on the ballot seeking to abolish the CRC.
“This will be a multi-year effort. It will probably begin this coming legislative session. We’ll begin a conversation with legislators and continue efforts to share our perspective,” he said. “I don’t know that a bill will be filed this year. In many cases it takes three, four or five years to get a bill through, have it heard and garner the support you’ve got to have to get it passed. The effort will begin now.”
Gaetz called the suggestion the CRC be abolished “poor sportsmanship.”
“The CRC is the only way that a citizen can come up with an idea like the ethics amendment, propose it, and have it go through a publicly transparent process and then go on the ballot to see if the voters agree,” he said. “It sounds like poor sportsmanship to say since we lost on every single amendment let’s just eliminate the way average people can propose amendments to the constitution.”