FloridaLocal

Supreme Court asked to block constitutional amendments

News-Service-Florida-Logo-68x25BY | Jim Saunders
The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Arguing that Floridians shouldn’t be asked to vote on ballot measures that patch together unrelated issues, a legal challenge filed Tuesday at the state Supreme Court seeks to scuttle six proposed constitutional amendments.

The plaintiffs, including former Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead, take aim at proposed amendments that the Florida Constitution Revision Commission placed on the November ballot. While individual amendments also face separate lawsuits, the petition filed at the Supreme Court targets six of the eight measures approved this spring by the commission.

The case centers on decisions by the commission to lump together multiple issues into single ballot proposals. For example, one of the measures, known as Amendment 9, asks voters to approve a ban on offshore oil drilling and a ban on vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces.

The petition contends, in part, that combining disparate issues in single ballot proposals violates First Amendment rights of voters and is “logrolling” of issues that should be considered separately. It raised the specter of voters having different views of issues in the same ballot proposal — for instance, someone could support a ban on oil drilling but oppose the vaping ban.

“This is logrolling and a form of issue gerrymandering that violates the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific independent and unrelated proposals to amend the Constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports,” the petition said. “This (Supreme) Court has acknowledged that the right to vote is a fundamental right that may not be abridged in the absence of a compelling and narrowly drawn state interest.”

The 37-member Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has unique power to place proposed constitutional amendments directly on the ballot. Tuesday’s legal challenge names as a defendant Secretary of State Ken Detzner, whose office oversees elections.

A spokesman for Attorney General Pam Bondi, who served on the commission, declined comment on the legal challenge.

“As this litigation is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment at this time,” Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray said in an email.

The Supreme Court gave the state until 5 p.m. Monday to reply to the petition.

Along with the ballot measure about oil drilling and vaping, the challenge targets:

— A proposal that includes expanding the rights of crime victims and raising the mandatory retirement age of judges.

— A proposal dealing governance of the state-college system and death benefits for survivors of first responders and military members.

— A proposal that would impose term limits on school-board members and require increased “civic literacy” education.

— A proposal that includes changing the start dates of legislative sessions and requiring charter county governments to have elected constitutional officers.

— A proposal that includes removing constitutional language that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and revising language to make clear that the repeal of criminal statutes does not affect the prosecution of crimes committed before the repeal.

The issue of combining multiple issues into single ballot proposals drew controversy during the Constitution Revision Commission’s deliberations.

“By bundling different proposals together, what we have done is undermine the work that we have undertaken to make sure that each one of the ballot summaries is clear and fairly informs the voters,” commission member Roberto Martinez said during a debate in April.

But member Brecht Heuchan defended the commission’s approach, saying during the debate he rejected “the notion that somehow these people are not capable of understanding basic related proposals.”

“Voters are very discerning when they go through their ballots,” Heuchan said. “They show up. They do their job, and they regularly come to conclusions that are accepted by all.”

Barring successful legal challenges, Floridians are slated to vote on 13 proposed constitutional amendments in November. The eight approved by the Constitution Revision Commission joined five others placed on the ballot by the Legislature and through petition drives.

— News Service assignment manager Tom Urban and staff writer Jim Turner contributed to this report.


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