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Jacksonville Socialists: Our position on the Florida ballot amendments

By Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Jacksonville District |
October 27, 2018
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Jacksonville, FL - On November 6, Floridians will vote on 12 amendments to the state constitution. Some of these amendments would have a far greater impact on the working-class and oppressed communities of this state than others. Several reached the ballot by citizens’ petition, while others were added by Governor Rick Scott’s majority-appointed Florida Constitutional Revision Commission, which met in 2017.

Amendments in Florida require a 60% majority vote to pass. A 2006 constitutional amendment that raised the percentage needed to pass - from a simple majority to 60% - went through, ironically, with just 59% support.

The Jacksonville District of the Freedom Road Socialist organization encourages all Floridians who can vote to do so. We support a YES vote on amendments: 3, 4, 9, 11 and 13. We urge a NO vote on amendments: 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 10 and 12.

YES on Amendment 4: The most important amendment

First things first: The single most important Florida amendment this year in Amendment 4, which would “automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense,” after serving their sentences. It is crucial that every Floridian who can goes to the polls and votes yes on Amendment 4.

Florida is one of only four states that do not automatically restore a person convicted of a felony’s right to vote after serving their sentence. Currently felons have to apply to a state board overseen by the governor to regain their franchise. Under Governor Rick Scott, the board has restored the rights of fewer than 3000 and added a five to seven year waiting period, even after their sentence is served!

This is voter suppression, pure and simple. 1.7 million people in Florida, about 10.7% of eligible voters, are disenfranchised because of past felony convictions. It’s a problem around the U.S., but Florida accounts for a staggering 27% of those disenfranchised due to past felony convictions.

Disenfranchising people convicted of felonies became a common practice in the South after the Civil War and Reconstruction to deny African Americans their right to vote. White landowners, police and the Ku Klux Klan would target, arrest and imprison Black people and strip them of rights. This practice continues today through the War on Drugs, racist policing and discriminatory prosecution practices. The result is that over 21% of Black eligible voters could not cast ballots in the 2016 election.

Florida is the third-largest state in the U.S., with about 21 million people. It also has the third-most African Americans and Latinos in the country, who make up 16.9% and 25.6% of the population, respectively. But despite its large and diverse working class, Florida has remained controlled by the GOP and the racist, big business interests behind it. Voter suppression and disenfranchisement is one of the ways they stay in power.

Voter suppression is an attack on the power of the whole working class. A vote for Amendment 4 will not fix all of these issues, but it will strike a major blow to the GOP’s racist, anti-worker attempts to suppress our rights.

NO on Amendments 1, 2 and 5: Tax-breaks for the rich and corporations

We encourage a no vote on Amendments 1, 2 and 5, which all help big business, developers, landowners and the rich. All three are backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce – the leading representative of big business in our state – and opposed by Florida’s labor unions.

Florida’s constitution has an amendment requiring the state government to “balance the budget” every year. This means that if tax revenues fall, the legislature must make cuts to their spending. For nearly two decades, the Republican Party has controlled the state house, the state senate, and the governor’s office in Florida, pushing the agenda of big business at the expense of the working class. Their appeals to ‘fiscal conservatism’ let them lower taxes for corporations and then ‘balance the budget’ by slashing social services for the working class. That’s what these amendments are all about.

Amendment 1 increases the homestead exemption from non-school-related property taxes from $50,000 to $75,000. This move benefits wealthier homeowners while doing nothing for renters and poorer homeowners. It would take an estimated $750 million in state and local property tax revenue and return it to wealthier homeowners. A budget shortfall of this size would trigger cuts to services like public transportation or health care, and it would likely result in city and county governments raising regressive sales taxes, which disproportionately tax the working class.

Amendment 2 makes permanent a tax exemption on second (or third) homes and other dwellings not used by the owner as a home. It’s backed by the Florida Association of Realtors, which has spent $5.56 million in support, along with landlords and property developers. They claim that if Amendment 2 doesn’t pass, they will be forced to raise rent rates on tenants.

Of course, working class renters know that our landlords and property owners are raising the cost of rent already! Jacksonville has the fifth fastest rising rent costs in the United States, up 5.1% from last year. Miami, the Tampa Bay area and Orlando all see similarly sharp increases, well above the 2.7% increase national average. Amendment 2 isn’t about saving renters money – it’s about tax breaks for landowners and rich people, who don’t give a damn about our families.

Amendment 5 would be a particularly major disaster. It would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of the state legislature to raise taxes, instead of the majority required right now. Corporations already snuck a provision like this into the state constitution in 1971, which requires the legislature to have a three-fifths majority to raise corporate income taxes. This amendment makes it easier for the rich to skip taxes and drive the state broke – on purpose!

YES on Amendment 3: Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Casino Developers

Let’s get one thing straight: Amendment 3, which requires voter approval for any new casinos built in Florida, has nothing to do with ‘democracy’. It’s a battle between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Disney on one hand and South Florida developers and real estate moguls on the other. It will make the approval process for new casinos more difficult, meaning the Seminole Tribe-operated facilities will retain their near monopoly. Disney and the rest of the Central Florida tourist industry, meanwhile, won’t have to compete with an explosion of big-money casinos in South Florida for traffic.

Nevertheless, we encourage a yes vote on Amendment 3 in solidarity with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

With revenues from casino gambling, Florida Seminoles have near-universal health care coverage, covered tuition costs for their students, and pay out dividend checks to their over 3300 registered members that guarantee a living income. Gambling is not their only industry, but it remains an important source of economic life for an indigenous tribe historically devastated by U.S. imperialism.

In the 19th century, Florida’s Seminoles faced systematic extermination by the U.S. government, which waged war on the tribe and forced most of its members to relocate at gunpoint. Several hundred refused to leave and continued to defend their land until the turn of the century, when they reestablished relations with the U.S. government.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has held a virtual monopoly on casino gambling in Florida dating back to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which allowed indigenous tribes to open gambling facilities on native lands. Since that time, the tribe has fought constant legal battles with the Florida state government, under both Democrat and Republican governors, to preserve the compact. South Florida developers despise the Seminoles, who they see as an obstacle to profit-making. Working people in Florida should stand with our indigenous sisters and brothers by voting yes on Amendment 3.

NO on Amendment 6, 7, 10 and 12: Trojan horses

We recommend a no vote on Amendments 6, 7, 10 and 12. The Florida Constitutional Revision Commission, appointed by Republican Governor Rick Scott and his cronies, submitted several amendments for the 2018 ballot. They bundled many unrelated issues together, using more innocent-sounding amendments as Trojan horses to smuggle in more destructive measures.

Under the banner ‘victims rights’, Amendment 6 actually tramples on the constitutional rights of the accused. Some analysts see it putting corporations on legal par with human beings in their claim to ‘victimization.’ The amendment also raises the retirement age for Florida judges from 70 to 75 and puts more restrictions on deferring to state agencies in legal interpretations. If that seems confusing, it is – and deliberately so.

Amendment 7 expands the definition of ‘first responders’ and provides death benefits to their spouses. It also raises the requirement for universities raising college fees and codifies the current board of trustees system that governs Florida’s colleges. Backed by the Association of Florida Colleges and many university administrators, the amendment is vocally opposed by the Florida Educators Association and the United Faculty of Florida for draining important state revenue away from schools.

Amendment 10 creates an ‘Office of Domestic Security and Counter-Terrorism’ in the state government, which no doubt would spend its time harassing Muslim and Arab families and spying on activists. But along with this massive and wasteful expansion of state repression, it also requires that elections are held for county offices (they’re not currently). This has nothing to do with democracy, though, since most counties already have this in place. This amendment is backed by most Florida sheriffs and police groups, including Jacksonville’s sheriff Mike Williams, because it massively expands their power. Vote it down.

Amendment 12 raises the restriction on public officials from lobbying their former agencies from two years to six years. Florida has a revolving door of politician-to-corporate lobbyist corruption that all working people have an interest in seeing end. But without an enforcement mechanism, lobbyists will continue to exploit loopholes, acting as ‘consultants’ for corporations and big business rather than direct advocates.

At worst, some believe Amendment 12 extends these restrictions to public employees in general. Given the right-wing makeup of the state legislature and judicial bench, it’s not hard to imagine this amendment being used to strip more rights away from public-sector unions.

YES on Amendments 9, 11 and 13

Several of these amendments are also bundles, but the benefits outweigh the cons. We encourage a yes vote on amendments 9, 11 and 13.

Amendment 9 is a baffling combination of a ban on offshore drilling in state waters and a ban on indoor vaping in workplaces, with some exceptions. While e-cigarette second-hand vapor is far less harmful than second-hand tobacco smoke, most employers already ban the vaping indoors. The real crux of this amendment protects Florida’s water, wildlife and natural resources from energy companies. It’s not enough – the amendment would only ban offshore drilling ten miles off the coast – but it’s a start until we have a federal ban.

Amendment 11 repeals a nasty, racist, xenophobic law added to Florida’s constitution in the 1910s and 20s, which restricted immigrants from owning property. Aimed at Asian immigrants, the law was found unconstitutional but never repealed. Another provision of the amendment repeals the so-called ‘Savings Clause’, which prevents sentencing reductions passed by the legislature from applying to current inmates. Racist mandatory minimum sentencing laws dramatically hurt working-class people, particularly African Americans and Latinos. Right now, if the legislature lowered a mandatory minimum sentence from 20 years to five years, someone serving 20 years would still carry the full sentence. This amendment ends that and levels sentencing.

Finally, Amendment 13 bans gambling on greyhound racing in the state of Florida. Greyhound racing is almost extinct as a form of gambling in the country. Florida houses 11 of the final 17 greyhound racing tracks. Old state laws regulating gambling require racetrack owners to hold a minimum number of greyhound races per day, regardless of participation levels or profitability, which have dropped significantly. A very narrow subset of the gaming industry, along with dog breeders and suppliers, profit from this practice and have come out against the amendment. They want to defend their dying cottage industry, which leads to one greyhound death every three days in Florida. There are plenty of other ways to gamble, even in Florida, that don’t grind up dogs into dust.

Vote on November 6 to advance a people’s agenda in Florida

Florida’s 2018 election matters greatly to the future of the people’s movements in this state and around the country. In cities like Jacksonville, the Black liberation movement continues pushing for community control of the police and the repeal of Stand Your Ground. Public sector unions have fought eight years of attacks from Governor Rick Scott and the GOP-controlled legislature. Immigrant rights activists have fought against deportations.

The Jacksonville District of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization hopes to see Rick Scott (who is running for U.S. Senate), the GOP, and the racist, big-business agenda they push defeated in Florida on November 6. But long after the elections are over, the problems facing the working class, African Americans, Latinos, women and others will persist. We see this election as a building block for even larger people’s movements in Florida capable of challenging the rule of the 1% and putting the working class in power. We encourage you to join with us to make that vision a reality.