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Class size amendment stays on ballot

Thursday, October 7th, 2010 by Dara Kam

A proposed constitutional amendment that would water down class size limits will remain on the ballot, the Florida Supreme Court ruled today.

Lawmakers placed the measure, Amendment 8, on the ballot to give school districts more flexibility meeting the constitutional restrictions on class sizes approved by voters in 2002. The proposal would keep class size limits at the school average level rather than require each class to comply with the limits.

The Florida teachers’ union argued that the measure is really intended to decrease the amount of money lawmakers must spend on public education.

Today’s unanimous decision upheld a lower court ruling.

Supremes to hear arguments on class size amendment on Oct. 6

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a proposed constitutional amendment watering down class size limits on Oct. 6.

A circuit court judge rejected the Florida Education Association’s challenge to the amendment, placed on the ballot by the legislature, earlier this month. The FEA appealed.

The high court tossed three other amendments proposed by lawmakers, ruling that they were confusing to voters.

Supreme Court tosses legislature’s amendments off ballot

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Supreme Court today threw out three proposed constitutional amendments placed on the November ballot by lawmakers.

The court tossed an amendment that would have watered down two other amendments put on the ballot by citizens’ petition dealing with redistricting, another designed to give tax breaks to first-time home-buyers and a third passed by lawmakers opposed to federal health care reforms.

The Supreme Court found that all three legislative proposals were misleading and struck them from the ballot.

The court also today refused to remove two proposed amendments put on the ballot by citizens’ initiative that would revamp the way congressional and legislative districts are drawn.

All constitutional amendments require 60 percent approval by voters to pass.

Teacher union files lawsuit to keep class size amendment off ballot

Friday, July 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida teachers’ union filed a lawsuit today to keep a constitutional amendment watering down class size restrictions off the ballot in November.

The GOP-dominated legislature put Amendment 8 on the ballot to allow school districts flexibility with constitutionally-mandated class size restrictions voters approved in 2002.

The class sizes have been eased in over time and this year are set to go from school-level averages to individual classroom pupil/teacher limits.

The proposed amendment, if approved by voters in November, would keep the averages at the school level.

But Ron Meyer, the lawyer representing the Florida Education Association and who filed the lawsuit this morning, contends that the amendment is really about stiffing taxpayers by not adequately funding education as the state constitution requires.

Lawmakers failed to put $354 million needed to comply with the class sizes into the budget this year, Meyer said.

The ballot title and summary don’t tell voters that the real aim of the amendment is to cut back on education spending, he accused.

“The failure of the legislature to be honest with parents – to tell them that Amendment 8 cuts funding to public schools which will result in crowded classrooms once again – is what makes this lawsuit necessary,” Meyer said in a press release.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat running for governor, said she supports the amendment because it gives flexibility to school districts.

Read the lawsuit here.

Crist: Doing away with separation of church and state not a good idea

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist said he didn’t know much about a proposal to do away with the separation of church and state in the Florida constitution passed by committees in the House and Senate yesterday.

But, he said, “On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

The proposed “Religious Freedom” constitutional amendment could appear on the ballot in November and would set the stage for the resurrection of Gov. Jeb Bush’s school voucher program, struck down by courts two years ago.

The measure is one of several proposals backed by social conservatives that may have more traction this year because of a more right-leaning Senate that in the past was a hurdle for the conservative agenda.

Read more here.

Senate moves to end separation of church and state

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The separation of church and state has been in Florida’s constitution for more than a century.

But that might this fall under a proposal approved by a Senate committee this morning that could go before voters on the November ballot.

The “Religious Freedom” amendment would delete the 125-year-old provision in the constitution prohibiting state money from being spent directly or indirectly to aid any church, sect or religious denomination. And it would open the door to former Gov. Jeb Bush’s school voucher program allowing public school students to use state money to pay for religious school tuition that the Florida Supreme Court struck down.

Also known as the “Blaine Amendment,” the separation of church and state restriction was an anti-Catholic, anti-immigration measure aimed at keeping Catholics from obtaining government funding for their schools.

(more…)

Gelber pushes constitutional amendment to stop secret budget deals

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dan Gelber is pushing a constitutional amendment aimed at cracking down on the kind of secret budget deals that got former House Speaker Ray Sansom in trouble.

Gelber, who is running against Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres in a Democratic primary for state attorney general, and Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, want lawmakers to put the constitutional amendment on next year’s November ballot.

The amendment would require that appropriations bills be written in plain language and that all budget conference meetings between two or more lawmakers be conducted in a publicly noticed meeting.

The state budget is usually crafted in a much different manner, going through a series of conference committees until the Senate President and the House Speaker ultimately resolve their differences behind closed doors.

In Sansom’s case, he was the House budget chairman when he slipped in a $6 million item to build an airport at a college where he later became a high-paid executive on the day he was annointed Speaker.

Sansom, Okaloosa County developer Jay Odom and former Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg have been indicted on official misconduct charges regarding the airport.

Sansom and Richburg each face an additional perjury charge for allegedly lying to a Leon County grand jury. They are scheduled to stand trial at the end of this month. (more…)

Hometown Democracy clears final ballot hurdle

Thursday, July 9th, 2009 by Dara Kam

It’s taken seven years and as many court challenges, but the Florida Supreme Court today cleared the way for the Hometown Democracy proposed constitutional amendment to be on next year’s November ballot.

The court at last accepted that the cost of the citizens initiative, the brainchild of West Palm Beach land use lawyer Lesley Blackner and Tallahassee lawyer Ross Burnaman, is “indeterminate.”

The proposal would require that citizens approve changes to local comprehensive growth management plans before they can go into effect.

Two previous financial estimates conducted by state economists predicted the change would cost “millions of dollars” statewide, a premise the court rejected because that assumed that local governments would schedule special elections for the comp plans referenda.

Critics, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and business-backed associations, of the Hometown Democracy initiative charge that the proposal will effectively halt growth around the state. They’ve got their own ballot initiative that would require allow voters to challenge comp plan amendments – but only if 10 percent of affected voters sign petitions at the local supervisors of elections office within 60 days of the changes being approved by local governments.

That proposal is still hundreds of thousands signatures short of the required 676,811 needed by Feb. 1 to get on the ballot.

Former child molester victims resort to constitutional change out of desperation

Monday, July 6th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A West Palm Beach lawyer who was repeatedly raped by a neighbor when he was 7 years old and the mother of a man who committed suicide 20 years after he was sexually molested by his Boca Raton karate teacher are desperate.

After five years, they’ve given up trying to get legislators to do away with the statute of limitations on civil and criminal punishment for child molesters that are now protected by time in Florida state law.

Their chief opponent, they say? The Catholic Church.

Now West Palm Beach Lawyer Michael Dolce is trying to get voters to do what lawmakers would not. He’s launched a petition drive to get a ballot initiative on next year’s November ballot.

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Lantana resident Patti Robinson, whose only child Jeff Smith killed himself on Christmas morning in 2001, is tapping her grief to help Dolce get the law changed.

“I felt this would be the best way that I could memorialize him so we would maybe save somebody else from having to go through the pain and suffering he did,” Robinson said.

Read the full story here.

Ruling sets stage for battle over growth

Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida voters will probably face a major decision in 2010 about future development now that backers of a proposed constitutional amendment have won a major court victory.

But the battle over growth, whether at the ballot or in the courts, is far from over.

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a law that let residents revoke their signatures on constitutional amendment ballot petitions. The ruling clears the way for the Hometown Democracy initiative to get on the ballot next year.

The amendment would require that all changes to a city or county long-term growth plan be approved by voters.

“I personally don’t think it’s that radical, but it does go to the heart of the developer power which has the ability to get what they want from city and county commissions,” said Palm Beach lawyer Lesley Blackner, co-author of the proposal. She has spent almost six years and nearly $1 million of her own money to get the initiative on the ballot.

Opponents, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, persuaded the legislature to pass the signature-revocation law specifically to try to thwart Hometown Democracy. They warn that the amendment would cause a permanent recession by halting development.

The high court has not yet issued a written opinion outlining the reasons for its 4-2 decision. But it upheld an appellate court ruling that found the signature-revocation law unconstitutional.

Now, voters may face a virtual Pandora’s box of ballot proposals for 2010.

Floridians for Smarter Growth, backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, is considering a counter-initiative. It would let residents vote on a growth-plan change only if 10 percent or more of a community’s registered voters signed a petition.

Meanwhile, the business-backed group Save Our Constitution, funded mainly by Associated Industries of Florida, wants to get an amendment on the ballot that would allow voters to put signature revocation into the constitution.

The competing ballot items are likely to yield one of the nastiest constitutional amendment showdowns in recent history.

“Hometown Democracy is essentially a proposal to freeze the status quo in place. … To say this is an economic catastrophe is probably a gross understatement,” said Ryan Houck, executive director of Floridians for Smarter Growth. “We believe this proposal is so bad for Florida’s economy that we will run a full-on campaign to defeat it at the polls.”

Associated Industries CEO and President Barney Bishop said his group is awaiting the Supreme Court’s formal opinion before deciding whether to ask for a rehearing.

Blackner and her supporters “were unabashed in their willingness to do anything and everything to get this on the ballot,” Bishop said. “But just be prepared. We’re going to use the same tactics they did. So better sleep with one eye open. ‘Cause we’re coming at you.”

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