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State amendments on your midterm ballots: South Florida editors weigh in

Voters cast their votes at an early voting center in Miami, Fla.
CARL JUSTE CJUSTE@MIAMIHERALD.COM
/
The Miami Herald
Voters cast their ballots at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami, one first day of early voting in 2020

Among the various questions on ballots this midterm, all Florida voters will have to vote on three constitutional amendments - and all three major South Florida newspapers are recommending a 'no' across the board.

Ahead of early voting, which started today, the South Florida Roundup spoke to the opinion editors for two regional newspapers to discuss their decision.

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The South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post have advised their audiences to vote 'no' on all three proposed amendments added to ballots by the state's legislature. Likewise, the Miami Herald — who could not appear on the show — recommended voting against them.

"This goes without saying," said Steve Bousquet, Sun Sentinel opinion editor. "The Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post, we're competing publications, we serve different audiences. However, we independently have come to the same conclusion here."

When in doubt, vote no. It's not going to hurt the state or the republic if this amendment doesn't pass. We don't think it should.
Steve Bousquet of the Sun Sentinel on amendment 1 and voting on constitutional questions

Amendment 1

Amendment 1 on the ballot would change Florida's constitution to say that if someone invests in making their property more resilient to sea level rise and flooding, those improvements wouldn't lead to higher property taxes.

Palm Beach Post opinion editor Tony Doris said that while the newspaper supports these upgrades to homes, it is against using the ballot to encourage them.

"We're recommending against it," he said. "Not because we're against building your home to withstand climate change, but because we don't feel a lot of things should be just thrown into constitutional amendments."

Instead, he said that if the legislature has enough support behind this measure, they should sign it into law. Once it is in the constitution, it can be very difficult to undo.

Bousquet said that the Sun Sentinel takes a very skeptical view of almost anything the Florida Legislature puts on the ballot.

"They're motivated mainly by election-year politics, not necessarily by what's in the best interests of Floridians," he added.

The amendment could open the door to abuse, he said.

"When in doubt, vote no," Bousquet added. "It's not going to hurt the state or the republic if this amendment doesn't pass. We don't think it should."

READ MORE: Amendments, referendums and other questions on your midterms ballot - a WLRN guide

Amendment 2

This item would abolish the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), a committee that meets at 20-year intervals, as a method of submitting proposed amendments or revisions to the state constitution to electors of the state for approval.

"The Sun-Sentinel vehemently opposes amendment two. The Constitution Revision Commission should be fixed and reformed, not abolished," said Bousquet.

The opinion editor told the South Florida Roundup that the state legislature has recently made it more difficult for citizens and interest groups to get initiatives on the ballot. He believes that the only way for people to level the playing field in a one-party-controlled political situation is through the initiative process.

While he admits that the CRC is flawed and needs changes, he believes it is a legitimate option to get citizens' issues heard that the legislature will consider.

Doris said it is a check on the legislature and and important avenue to let the people have a say in these decisions.

"By removing this commission, that would remove one more way in which something that isn't completely under the thumb of the legislature could bring about any changes that might be needed or be considered to the commission," he said.

Amendment 3

Amendment 3 would give additional property tax breaks to owner-occupied homes of teachers, law enforcement officers, members of the armed forces, and other first responders. In effect, it would reduce the taxable value of the home by another $50,000.

Doris says that the Palm Beach Post gives this amendment a firm 'no' because if the legislature wants something like this, they can create a law, not add it to the constitution.

Apart from that, he says homestead allowances make it difficult to spread the tax burden in the state evenly.

"These people are all worthy of tax breaks. We all are. But the more you give everybody a tax break, the more everybody else has to pay in the long run. So it doesn't really work," he said.

Bousquet says this is another case of politicians in Tallahassee picking favored groups, while not addressing the issue as a whole.

"Any time you do something like this, you are extracting tax revenue from cities and counties," he said. "In an era of inflation and economic stresses and a lack of housing affordability and many other problems, there needs to be an overarching, compelling reason why the state feels it should take money away from local governments."

On the South Florida Roundup, we also spoke to Palm Beach Post reporter Wayne Washington and former Florida ACLU director Howard Simon about amendment 4 and the voter fraud arrests across the state. Listen to the full episode above.

Read WLRN's election coverage here.

Helen Acevedo is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.