Elections 2020,  State

Florida’s New Constitutional Amendments

On Election Day, Floridians not only decided who would be representing them in Washington, Tallahassee, and city hall, but they also participated in the lawmaking process themselves. There were six proposed constitutional amendments on the Florida ballot in 2020, four of which got the required 60% approval to newly become law.

Despite the supermajority threshold, most ballot measures have passed since the amendment process was added to the state constitution in 1968.

The trend continued this year, as only Amendments 3 and 4 failed with 57% and 47.5% support, respectively. Both amendments would have changed the democratic process in Florida, with the former proposing an overhaul of the state’s primary system and the latter proposing all amendments pass twice before changing the constitution.

The four remaining measures—1, 2, 5, and 6—were approved by voters, and they have become new amendments to the Florida Constitution. As part of the most fundamental law of the state, they can be expected to bring about real, tangible changes to the future of Florida and its citizens.

Amendment 1: Citizenship Requirement to Vote in Florida Elections

Previously described in Florida Political Review as “the least substantive policy change of the six,” Amendment 1 passed easily with 79.3% of the vote.

The amendment rewords Article VI, Section 2 of the constitution to say, “Only a citizen of the United States who is at least eighteen years of age and who is a permanent resident of the state, if registered as provided by law, shall be an elector of the county where registered.” Prior to Nov. 3, the text had said “every citizen” may vote.

Amendment 1 offers no immediate policy consequences because it does not actually change any laws or procedures.

The initiative’s stated purpose was to prevent local governments from allowing noncitizens to vote, as is permitted in some jurisdictions in other states. However, Florida statutes had already established citizenship as a requirement to register to vote, and registration was already required by the constitution.

Some progressives and advocacy groups, including the ACLU, have warned that the new language could be used to justify more restrictive voter requirements, such as more thorough voter ID laws.

Amendment 2: Raising Florida’s Minimum Wage

Perhaps the hottest-button issue on the Florida ballot was Amendment 2, which passed by a razor-thin margin with 60.8% of the vote. The amendment will progressively increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.

Amendment 2 will raise the minimum to $10 per hour in 2021, then by $1 annually until 2026. Starting in 2027, minimum wage will be indexed annually, as it has been since 2004.

The progressive think tank Florida Policy Institute has reported that by 2026, Amendment 2 will increase wages for 26% of the state’s workforce, lift a significant number of Floridians over the poverty line, and help close both the racial and gender wage gaps, especially for women of color.

However, the amendment had vocal opponents. The Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, two of the state’s most influential interest groups, opposed the initiative, as did many leading Republicans including Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. They argued that the state’s battered economy cannot bear the burden of increased labor costs coming out of the pandemic-induced recession.

Supporters fear Amendment 2 could face attempts by the state government to limit its effects, much like what happened to 2018’s Amendment 4. This amendment restored voting rights to former felons but was followed by legislation requiring they pay off all fines and fees, effectively disenfranchising 775,000 people again.

Orlando attorney John Morgan, who sponsored Amendment 2, has promised to sue the state if they attempt such a thing. Morgan successfully sued the state after they tried to undercut a 2016 amendment legalizing medical marijuana.

Amendment 5: Limitation on Homestead Assessments

Unsurprisingly, Amendment 5 passed with 74.5% of the vote. A relatively uncontroversial, niche property tax law, it reached the ballot by legislative resolution with little opposition.

Currently, homeowners receive a homestead exemption on their primary residence and a “Save Our Homes” cap on how much it can be taxed. Amendment 5 extends the grace period to transfer those benefits to a new home from two years to three, giving Floridians more flexibility in keeping their tax credits.

Amendment 6: Ad Valorem Tax Discount for the Spouses of Certain Deceased Veterans

Lastly, Amendment 6 passed with 89.7% of the vote, the highest percentage of any amendment on the ballot by a wide margin. Like Amendment 5, it reached the ballot by legislative resolution.

Currently, Florida veterans over 65 who were disabled in combat and honorably discharged receive a property tax credit. Amendment 6 extends that credit to their spouse if the veteran passes away and their spouse both holds the title and lives permanently on the property.

Featured image: The Old Florida Capitol in Tallahassee. Unmodified photo by Ebyabe used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3kMDyrC)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.    

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