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Senate committee to workshop Clemens’s elections bills on Tuesday

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will workshop two voting-related bills sponsored by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens on Tuesday.

One of Clemens’s proposals would automatically register voters when they get a driver’s license or state ID card (they could opt out if they choose). The second would restrict legislators to putting three constitutional amendments on the ballot at any one time.

They’ll be the first official pieces of legislation heard by the committee, tasked by Senate President Don Gaetz to figure out what went wrong with the 2012 election and propose legislative fixes.

Elections supervisors told the committee earlier this month that the number one problem – even in areas that didn’t have six hour waits like Palm Beach County – was the length of the ballot.

The GOP-controlled legislature placed 11 lengthy, and according to the supervisors confusing, constitutional questions on the 2012 ballot. Three of them passed, and the rest did not even get a majority approval from voters. Constitutional amendments require 60 percent approval by voters to pass.

Limiting the number of constitutional questions lawmakers can place on the ballot requires a change to the constitution, which means Clemens’s proposal would have to go before voters.

“The irony of this is yes, I filed a constitutional amendment to limit constitutitonal amendments,” Clemens said. “That’s the only way to accomplish it. I think it’s a legitimate constitutional issue as opposed to many of the items placed on the ballot in November which were purely political.”

Clemens files resolution that would create full-time legislature

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 by Dara Kam

For many Capitol insiders, the 60-day legislative sessions are more than long enough.

But state Sen. Jeff Clemens, a freshman who won a bitter primary against former state Rep. Mack Bernard, filed a resolution that would make the sessions last two years.

Under Clemens’s proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 512), the session would begin two weeks after the general election and last two years.

Clemens said lawmakers don’t have enough time to fully vet issues during the two-month session.

“The compressed nature of the legislature as we have it right now forces us to rush bills through without thinking them through and doesn’t allow enough time for us to delve into the budgetary process,” the Lake Worth Democrat said. “I think the voters suffer because of that.”

And the 160 members of the House and Senate, whose annual legislative salaries is around $30,000, have full-time, outside jobs that may create conflicts when voting on legislation, Clemens said.

“It’s really a case of not being able to serve two masters at once,” he said. “The idea of a full-time legislature is really rooted in allowing legislators to make decisions based on what they think is best for the state and not have to have their individual employment or individual financial situations compromised by that.”

No word yet on what Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, thinks of Clemens’s proposal. But, after the GOP-controlled legislature was blamed for long voting lines during the 2012 presidential election because they put 11 lengthy constitutional questions on the ballot, Gaetz has said instructed his members to use restraint regarding constitutional changes.

“If you have a proposed constitutional amendment, it’d better solve a constitutional problem, not an issue du jour,” Gaetz said in November.

‘No on 6′ launches third TV ad against abortion-related amendment

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The “No on 6″ political committee, funded largely by Planned Parenthood organizations from around the country, launched a third television ad in Florida urging voters to reject a proposed constitutional amendment dealing with abortion.

The proposal, placed on the November ballot by the GOP-dominated legislature, would ban state money from being used to pay for abortions or insurance policies that cover the procedure except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother is in danger. The measure would also change privacy rights included in the state constitution used in previous court cases to strike down anti-abortion laws.

The latest ad, called “I’ve Seen First Hand,” features a doctor warning that Amendment 6 would bar insurance companies from covering abortions in pregnancies that could threaten a woman’s health.

“No on 6″ has earmarked at least $2 million for TV, radio and online ads before the Nov. 6 election.

A previous ad entitled “Don’t Let Politicians Play Doctor” features a Gov. Rick Scott look-alike barging into a woman’s examination with her doctor.

The “No on 6″ campaign’s first TV ad starred Sandra Fluke.

Sandra Fluke joins Amend 6 opposition

Thursday, October 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sandra Fluke has joined a cadre of abortion advocates urging voters to shoot down Amendment 6, a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot dealing with abortion.

The measure, one of 11 proposed changes to the constitution put on the ballot by the GOP-dominated legislature, would bar the spending of state money for abortions, something already banned by state and federal law. And it would do away with privacy restrictions in the state constitution used to strike down abortion restrictions on other proposed Florida laws.

Fluke drew national attention when Republicans refused to allow her to testify at a congressional hearing earlier this year about whether Georgetown University, a Catholic school where she was a law student, should be required to provide contraception coverage in its insurance plan. Palm Beach resident Rush Limbaugh drew condemnation for bashing attacking Fluke on his radio show, calling her a “slut.” He later apologized.

FL League of Women Voters: ‘No’ on all 11 proposed constitutional amendments

Thursday, September 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The League of Women Voters of Florida is advising voters to shoot down all 11 proposed constitutional amendments placed on the November ballot by the legislature.

The measures include changes to the state’s property tax system, a state revenue cap, weakening the state constitutional privacy protection used to defend abortion rights and amending the separation of church and state doctrine by allowing public money to be spent on religious schools. Another, Amendment 5, would give the legislature a say in the selection of Supreme Court justices and the courts’ rules.

“From beginning to end, these amendments are bad ideas,” Florida league president Deirdre Macnab told reporters in a telephone conference today. “We are strongly opposing all of the 11 amendments on the ballots and we are encouraging voters to give them a thumbs down.”

Counties, cities launch anti-Amend 4 campaign

Thursday, September 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida cities and counties have launched a “Tax Breaks 4 Snowbirds” campaign in opposition to Amendment 4, a proposed constitutional amendment with a smorgasbord of property tax breaks pushed by Realtors.

The Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties are fighting back against the Realtors, who’ve dumped more than $3.5 million into a campaign pushing the amendment that includes a cheeky “Tax Your Assets Off” marketing blitz.

“Amendment 4 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge, president of the FAC, said in a press release announcing the new campaign.

State economists predict the measure will cost more than $1.7 billion over four years. The loss in tax revenue will be shifted to local governments and long-time property owners, who already benefit from the state’s Save Our Homes cap but won’t gain from the new proposal, the counties and cities say.

But Realtors and other supporters of the amendment put on the ballot by the legislature say it will boost Florida’s real estate market. They say the state economists didn’t take into consideration the potential positive impact real estate sales the measure could bring.

Realtors move another $1.5 million into Amendment 4 pro-property tax campaign committee

Monday, September 24th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State and national Realtors associations pumped another $1.5 million into a campaign pushing a constitutional amendment limiting property taxes mainly for nonhomestead property owners, bringing to $3.5 million the groups have raised so far, according to campaign finance records.

The Florida Association of Realtors added another $1 million on Aug. 31 and the National Association of Realtors gave $500,000 on Sept. 5 to the “Taxpayers First” political committee, the records show. The Florida group had already dumped more than $2 million into the campaign, which includes a slick “Tax Your Assets Off” marketing blitz, urging a “yes” vote on Amendment 4.

Amendment 4 would save money for first-time home buyers, rental property owners and snowbirds, and it could cut taxes for homestead owners who lose value on their homes.

Local governments oppose the amendment, one of 11 put on the November ballot by the GOP-dominated legislature, which state economists say could cost schools, counties and cities about $1.7 billion over four years.

The Florida Association of Counties recently set up the “Citizens for Local Decision Making” political committee but haven’t reported any contributions yet, the campaign finance records show.

Anti-abortion group launches ‘Yes on 6′ constitutional amendment campaign

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A group of anti-abortion advocates is urging voters to support a constitutional amendment they say will allow lawmakers to revisit a parental consent measure struck down by the courts.

“Citizens for Protecting Taxpayers and Parental Rights” launched the “Yes on 6″ campaign last month, advocating for a constitutional amendment placed on the November ballot by lawmakers last year.

The ballot language does not mention parental consent – which would require a parent to give their permission before a minor girl can have the procedure – but would specifically exempt abortions from the privacy clause of the state’s constitution.

The Florida Supreme Court in 2003 struck down a 1999 parental notification law because of that clause, ruling that even children had the right to privacy.

The following year, voters required a constitutional amendment requiring that parental notification before a girl can have an abortion. Florida law now requires that parents or guardians be notified at least 48 hours before a girl can have an abortion and allows for judge’s to grant permission in certain cases.

But that law doesn’t go far enough, proponents of Amendment 6 on this year’s ballot argued.

Parents should be required to sign off on abortions as they must for body piercings and tattoos, said Randy Armstrong, a Tampa obstetrician and president of Citizens for Protecting Taxpayers and Parental Rights.

“Parental consent is the number one issue that we have,” he said.

The proposed amendment, entitled “Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions; Construction of Abortion Rights,” would bar public money from being spent on abortions, something already prohibited by federal and state law. Currently, poor women can receive abortions paid for by Medicaid – the state/federal health care program – only in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. Like all other changes to the constitution, the proposal requires 60 percent of voter approval to pass.

The ballot summary that will appear before voters in November reads:

“This proposed amendment provides that public funds may not be expended for any abortion or for health-benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. This prohibition does not apply to an expenditure required by federal law, a case in which a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would place her in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, or a case of rape or incest. This proposed amendment provides that the State Constitution may not be interpreted to create broader rights to an abortion than those contained in the United States Constitution. With respect to abortion, this proposed amendment overrules court decisions which conclude that the right of privacy under Article I, Section 23 of the State Constitution is broader in scope than that of the United States Constitution.”

Constitutional amendment doing away with separation of church and state back on the ballot…for now

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A measure doing away with a century-old prohibition on using state funds for religious purposes is back on the November 2012 ballot, for now, after Attorney General Pam Bondi rewrote the proposal using a Tallahassee judge’s guidance.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis last week tossed the proposed “Religious Freedom” constitutional amendment, placed on next year’s November ballot by lawmakers, saying it was misleading because it left the impression that it would “make it a lot harder for the state to deny funding or program benefits to a sectarian institution.”

Under a new election law signed by Gov. Rick Scott this spring, Bondi had 10 days to rewrite the ballot summary. She crafted the revised measure as Lewis suggested in his Dec. 13 ruling by deleting the phrase “consistent with the United States Constitution” and inserting “except as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Critics say the amendment makes it easier for the GOP-dominated legislature and executive branch to steer taxpayer money to religious entities, including schools. The amendment’s ballot summary would change Florida’s constitution to ensure that “no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support.” At least 60 percent of voters must approve the measure for it to pass.

The plaintiffs in the case, including religious leaders and the Florida teachers’ union, also tried but failed to get Lewis to strike down the law allowing the attorney general to revise the summary if a court strikes it down as misleading. Bondi’s rewrite Tuesday is the first time the new law giving her that ability has been used.

Property tax amendment headed to ballot

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida voters will be able to decide whether first-time homebuyers and non-homesteaded property owners should get a tax break under a proposed constitutional amendment headed to the November 2012 ballot.

The Florida Senate narrowly approved the joint resolution by a bipartisan 25-12 vote, one more than needed for the measure to pass. Some argued that the measure would create further inequities in the state’s tax structure that creates a disparity between property owners depending on how long they’ve owned or lived in the structures and that it would not help create jobs.

“I have not had one person call me up and say ‘Please reduce my property tax,’” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, one of the three Republicans who voted against the amendment. “In your heart, you all know it’s a cop-out to say let’s let the voters decide.”

But supporters said the proposal would infuse life into the anemic real estate market.

“We have literally tens of thousands of unoccupied homes in the state,’’ said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. “We’ve got to create some incentives.”
(more…)

Confusing amendments could still get on the ballot

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

GOP House leaders hatched a new plan to keep the Florida Supreme Court from scrapping the legislature’s proposed constitutional amendments from the ballot.

The new plan (HB 1261) is the latest salvo in House Speaker Dean Cannon’s battle with the high court, which last year removed three proposed constitutional amendments the legislature attempted to put on the ballot. Cannon released his latest plan to overhaul the Supreme Court earlier today.

The latest proposal would require that the full text of a proposed amendment goes on the ballot even if the court rules the ballot summaries are misleading, confusing or defective. Court challenges about the summaries would have to be filed within 30 days after the amendments are filed with the secretary of state.

A House committee is expected to vote on the measure tomorrow.

Should court be able to strip lawmakers’ amendments off ballot?

Monday, March 21st, 2011 by Dara Kam

A measure that would bar the Florida Supreme Court from stripping proposed constitutional amendments off the ballot because of deficiencies in the ballot title or summary narrowly made it through its first stop in the Senate this morning.

The proposal (SB 1504) also would impose more restrictions on petition gatherers.

House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos have gone after the court for tossing a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Florida to opt out of the federal health care law. The proposal would require the court to send an amendment back to the state department with instructions on how to fix it and allow the secretary of state to alter it and then place it directly on the ballot without further court review.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, would also:
-Require the paid signature gatherers to be eligible vote in Florida;
- Prohibit them from being paid by the petition;
- Require that their names be on all the petitions;
- Reduce from four years to 20 months the amount of time the petitions are valid.

The bill passed on a 7-5 vote, with Republican Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, joining Democrats in opposition.

Senate approves TABOR-type cap on government spending

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would cap government spending, a variation of the “Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights,” or TABOR, Colorado instituted in 1992 but repealed in 2005.

The so-called “Smart Cap” measure, sponsored by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, limits future state spending to growth based on population and cost of living and constrains borrowing. Voters in 20 other states have rejected similar measures.

Opponents of the proposed amendment argued that the state constitution already curbs state spending by requiring a balanced budget and that the spending caps could harm the state’s most vulnerable in economic downturns like Florida is now experiencing. Lawmakers are struggling to slash at least $3.62 billion from last year’s budget.

The Colorado measure also capped local government spending increases, something not included in Bogdanoff’s proposal, and resulted in a dramatic decline in education and social services funding.

“We already have a revenue limit in Florida. We have repealed as much as $19 billion in taxes over the last 12 years. We simply don’t need an even more restrictive cap in the state constitution,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston argued. “If you think we’ve had hard choices to make…over the past few years,
TABOR will only make it worse.”

But Bogdanoff insisted her bill is necessary to rein lawmakers in.

“We already have a cap in the constitution. But it’s not working. We need one that’s going to work better,” Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said. “This is not Colorado. We have learned from the mistakes of other states.
We didn’t want to repeat what they had done…If government takes less, the people have more. and I don’t know about you but I’m okay with that.”

The measure passed with a 27-13 vote. Two Republicans, Sens. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Nancy Detert of Venice, voted against it; one Democrat, Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee, voted in favor.

The proposal is one of Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ top priorities. Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, is running for U.S. Senate, and, if approved by the House, could join him on the November 2012 ballot if he wins what is expected to be a crowded GOP primary.

The House has not yet voted on the bill (SB 958). It would require 60 percent approval by voters to get into the state constitution if it makes it on the ballot.

Senate president gets biblical about TABOR, bashes health care law

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ opening speech for the 2011 legislative session began with an homage to Winston Churchill, wove in several biblical references and ended with a Shakespearean quote as he set the stage for the next 60 days.

The Merritt Island Republican and U.S. Senate candidate blasted the federal health care law, calling it reckless and arrogant. The Senate will debate one of Haridopolos’ top priorities later today – a proposed constitutional amendment letting the state opt out of the federal law.

Haridopolos, his wife Stephanie seated beside him, waxed biblical over a second priority – a proposed constitutional amendment known as “Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights,” or TABOR, that would cap state spending and debt.

“I call my plan Smart Cap, because it is both. But it could be called the Old Testament Option, as the concept was originally Joseph’s. In the good years, don’t eat all the corn. Save some, so that in the bad years you don’t have to eat sand. Very wise, and very much needed if we do not want our spending in the past to be the prologue for the future,” Haridopolos said.

(more…)

Cannon ready to revamp Supreme Court

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon, wrangling with the Florida Supreme Court since it killed three constitutional amendments pushed last year by the Republican Legislature, unveiled his latest idea Monday — overhaul the Supreme Court.

Cannon said the House will propose creating two, five-member Supreme Courts, one charged with overseeing civil matters, the other criminal cases. Justices from the current, seven-member court could form the core of the new, 10-justice lineup, but there would be no guarantees, he conceded.

The Winter Park lawmaker, during a briefing with reporters, also said he wants to change existing merit retention election standards. He’d require appellate justices to win the support of more than 60 percent of voters to stay on the bench. Currently, justices only need to secure a majority. (more…)

TABOR tussle ahead

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

With the Florida Senate poised to approve a strict state spending cap possibly as early as next week’s opening days of the legislative session, opponents are trying to marshal forces.

The League of Women Voters warns that the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) that Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, is looking to put before voters next year could doom Florida to years of inadequate financing of health and social service programs.

Critics say the state’s tough revenue picture is only going to get more brutal if TABOR is OK’d by voters.

“This is like telling people who are dying of thirst in the desert that they need to have flood insurance,” said Ben Wilcox, a league lobbyist.

Florida already has a revenue cap in the state constitution, approved by voters in 1994. But the latest proposal tightens it from being based on personal income growth to a new standard tied to population growth and inflation, while also limiting future borrowing.

It doesn’t apply to cities and counties. 

 Colorado approved the nation’s first TABOR in 1992, but later suspended it do to government cash-flow problems.  Haridopolos, a candidate for U.S. Senate, says TABOR is needed to restrain state government — especially when the recession eases and tax collections return to earlier levels.

Crist, Sink rally in Tally against offshore drilling

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Former Gov. Charlie Crist and former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink will lead a bipartisan rally today to support a constitutional ban on offshore drilling today.

Crist, a Republican-turned-independent, and Sink, a Democrat, will appear with lawmakers and others at an event at 12:30 on the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee.

Crist called lawmakers in for a special session last year to pass a similar amendment to put on the November 2010 ballot, but they snubbed him. The legislature met briefly and adjourned without doing anything after Crist abandoned the GOP and became an independent to avoid a Republican primary in the U.S. Senate race, which he eventually lost to Marco Rubio.

Before leaving office in January, Sink struggled to get BP claims czar Ken Feinberg to improve his claims process after tens of thousands of Panhandle residents, and hundreds of Floridians throughout the state, complained about problems with his Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

That system remains troubled as Feinberg is set to begin making final payments to more than 500,000 applicants for damages caused by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Yesterday, senators discussed creating a state system for victims of BP’s massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to expedite the claims system.

Next Friday, Feinberg will appear before a House committee at the behest of House Speaker Dean Cannon. Hundreds of Panhandle officials and residents are expected to show up. Complaints about Feinberg’s payments from the $20 billion fund set up by BP include delays, an inability to find out where claims are in the process, and inconsistencies in who gets paid and how much.

A federal judge recently ruled that Feinberg is not independent of BP, as he contends, and ordered him to quit saying that he is.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is so fed up with Feinberg’s erratic claims system that on Monday he asked a federal judge to take it over “to facilitate the timely and just processing of claims.”

Lawsuit filed against state for failing to raise minimum wage

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Advocates for poor and low-wage workers filed a lawsuit against the state for failing to raise the minimum wage to reflect inflation as required by the Florida constitution.

Lawyers for the New York-based National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services filed the lawsuit on behalf of roughly 188,000 minimum wage workers in Florida.

The agency should have raised the current $7.31 hourly minimum rage by six cents, the lawsuit argues.

In 2004, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment automatically raising the minimum wage each year to reflect the increase in the cost of living.

Fla tea partiers push VA-style anti-health insurance law

Monday, December 20th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Liberty Alliance – a coalition of tea party activists – is pushing Senate President Mike Haridopolos to pass a law similar to Virginia’s that would exempt Floridians from the federal health care law requiring individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a fine.

The group wants Haridopolos and the Florida Legislature to pass something similar to Virginia’s “Health Care Freedom Act” and make it one of the first things they do when they convene in March.

Haridopolos has already sponsored a constitutional amendment by the same name that would allow Florida to opt out of the health care law, now under scrutiny by a federal judge in Pensacola.

But the alliance doesn’t want to wait until the 2012 election when the proposal would go on the ballot.

“We respectfully ask that all expeditious measure be taken to introduce legislation to create Florida law, as was crafted so well in Virginia, to secure these protections by statute for Floridians as one of the very first legislative initiatives in the new session,” wrote a group of tea party activists in a letter to Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, released today.

“We believe that if Governor Scott, as one of his first acts on taking office, were to sign such legislation into law, the citizens of Florida would see that our elected Representatives not only take their oath of office to protect the Constitution seriously, but it would send a very strong message to Washington and the entire nation,” the letter goes on.

A federal judge in Virginia last week overturned the “individual mandate” portion of the law requiring that individuals and families have health insurance coverage or pay a fine. That case is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola this week heard oral arguments in a challenge filed by Attorney General Bill McCollum and 19 other states. The Florida case also contends that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the federal government overreached its authority with sweeping changes to the federal-state Medicaid program included in the law.

Fair Districts ad: politicians like bank robbers and foxes in the hen house

Monday, October 11th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Politicians are foxes guarding the hen house or bank robbers protecting the banks when it comes to drawing their own districts, a new ad by the backers of Amendments 5 and 6 accuses.

The amendments would change the way Congressional and legislative districts are drawn by prohibiting them from favoring incumbents or political parties.

Opponents of the measures are fighting back – they’ve enlisted the help of former NAACP president and civil rights icon Benjamin Chavis to boost their argument that the proposals would make it harder for minorities to get elected.

Supporters of Fair Districts, the group that collected the petitions to put the amendments on the ballot and is running the ad, include the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and national groups – including ACORN – that traditionally back Democrats who’ve pumped millions of dollars into Fair Districts’ campaign fund.

But the amendments are pitting minority leaders against one another and Democrats.
(more…)

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