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Judge strikes down dog-racing ban, calling it ‘outright trickeration’

Saying it “hide(s) the ball” and calling it “outright ‘trickeration,’ ” a Tallahassee judge has ruled that a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at ending dog racing shouldn’t go on the November ballot.

But in a statement, Attorney General Pam Bondi – who supports a dog-racing ban – said her office “will appeal this decision immediately and seek an expedited review by the Florida Supreme Court.” Time is of the essence; Election Day is 97 days away as of Wednesday.

Among other things, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ 27-page order (also posted below) said Amendment 13‘s ballot title and summary would mislead voters into believing a ‘yes’ vote was an outright ban on greyhound racing.

The amendment bans betting on live dog racing in Florida, and doesn’t make clear that trackgoers in Florida could still bet on ‘simulcast‘ dog races outside Florida, she said. Live racing is still conducted at 11 tracks in the state.

It also doesn’t make clear, Gievers added, that a vote for the amendment is a vote for other gambling – such as card games and slot machines – to continue at tracks that have them.

Gievers said the amendment title and summary were “clearly and conclusively defective,” a legal standard developed by the Supreme Court to justify keeping proposed amendments off the ballot.

Specifically, a ballot summary is defective if it “fails to specify exactly what was being changed, thereby confusing voters” or “gives the appearance of creating new rights or protections, when the actual effect is to reduce or eliminate rights or protections already in existence,” the court has said

Amendment 13 doesn’t provide voters with the “ ’truth in packaging’ to which they are entitled,” she wrote.

The measure was slated for the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). Amendments need no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The Florida Greyhound Association, which represents breeders and owners who oppose Amendment 13, had sued to prevent it from appearing on the statewide ballot. A final hearing was held last Thursday.

“Judge Gievers was very thorough in her ruling,” said Jack Cory, lobbyist and spokesman for the association.

She had, for instance, said the ballot title and summary don’t disclose that “humane treatment of animals would become a fundamental value of the people of Florida,” agreeing with arguments made by the association’s lawyer, Major B. Harding, a retired Florida Supreme Court justice.

“The state of Florida should not use taxpayer dollars to appeal this case,” Cory added. “The proponents got a donation of $1.5 million last week,” referring to a large donation from the Doris Day Animal League. “If (they) want to appeal the ruling, they should use their own money, not (that of) taxpayers.”

The Protect Dogs–Yes on 13 campaign, which formed to push for the amendment’s passage, said the legal challenge isn’t over.

“This is a process that will end with a decision by the Florida Supreme Court,” the campaign said in a statement, echoing Bondi. “This is the first step on a long road, and we are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the amendment.”

The campaign further called the suit “a desperate attempt to prevent voters from having a voice on whether greyhound confinement and deaths should continue. It was filed because greyhound breeders know that when Amendment 13 appears on the ballot, Floridians will vote ‘yes’ for the dogs.”

The ban was one of eight amendments OK’d by the CRC; 13 amendments in all had been set for the ballot. Amendment 13 is the first to be struck down out of the four CRC measures that have been challenged in court.

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Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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