This week members of the Florida Constitutional Revision (CRC) will meet to examine proposals to amend the Florida Constitution and make recommendations to voters.
The constitutional revision process is unique to Florida.
No other state has such a body, one that meets every 20 years and takes recommendations for amendments directly to the voters, without requiring approval of the governor or the Legislature, and without automatic review by the courts.
The Florida Constitution is a statement of our aspirations as Floridians. Unlike the U.S. Constitution which grants powers to the federal government, the Florida Constitution is a statement of limitations on government.
Because of this difference, the Florida Constitution is much more detailed than its federal counterpart. Some have unfavorably compared the Florida Constitution to the U.S. Constitution in terms of its respective length (the Florida Constitution is three times longer than the U.S. Constitution).
But this critique overlooks the fundamental distinction between the two. Clearly, if we want to limit the power of state government, we must specifically enumerate these limitations in our state charter.
Recently, a former Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Major Harding, suggested that the Florida Constitution is overburdened with sections relating to government policy and ordinary regulation. He argues that to the extent that a proposed amendment is not necessary for government to operate, or does not protect a fundamental right, or cannot be enacted by the Legislature, then such a proposal for amendment should be rejected.
Under this analysis, as many as 11 of the 12 current proposals would have to be set aside and sent back for possible legislative consideration. This defies the entire CRC process and takes away the rights of voters to decide on important issues.
There is no doubt that there are provisions of the state constitution that should be revisited and that some are outdated. Certainly, as things become less important, provisions of the Constitution should be cleaned up and removed. But to reject a proposal simply because it could be enacted by the legislature, or because the proposal does not address a principle enshrined in the federal bill of rights is misguided.
The Florida Constitution was designed to change. By design, every 10 years, either the Constitution Revision Commission or the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission meeting to make recommendations to the voters on desirable changes to the state constitution. A citizens’ initiative process is enshrined in our constitution to allow voters to initiate a change to the Constitution to limit government action or activity in some way when the Legislature fails to recognize the need or popular desire for such action.
There is no reason why constitutional revision recommendation for change should not accord with the same changes that could be made by the citizens’ initiative.
Florida has grown and changed drastically over our history and our state Constitution is designed to be changed for matters that are timely. State Constitutions in other states are similarly designed to be changed by voter approval. The Florida Constitution has been amended more than 100 times since 1968. That is not to say that the state constitution should be bloated with bad and unworkable ideas. However, valid proposals that limit government authority power or direct government action should be considered on their merits and not on their word count.
Justice Harding identified four proposals that remain under consideration by the Constitutional Revision Commission, which he opines would serve no constitutional purpose. This includes Proposal 6012, a measure to phase out wagering on commercial dog racing.
Clearly, the free market would have ended wagering on dog racing a long time ago. Instead, lobbyists and special interests have convinced the legislature to require dog racing as a gateway to other more profitable forms of gambling, something that 70 percent of Florida citizens in a recent McLaughlin survey rejected.
Under the current scheme, dog racing must continue — and taxpayers must underwrite losses of as much as $3.3 million each year – in order for card rooms and slots facilities to be permitted at aging greyhound tracks.
Thousands of greyhounds endure lives of confinement at Florida tracks, stored in warehouse-style kennels in rows of stacked metal cages that are barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around. It is time for this important matter to be decided by the voters. Florida is host to 12 of the remaining 18 American dog tracks, so the health and safety of the majority of American greyhounds is at stake.
Perhaps even more importantly, our fundamental right to make decisions about community standards, humane considerations and a form of gambling stands at issue. On average, a greyhound dies at a Florida racetrack every three days.
Outlawing wagering on the outcome of dog racing certainly serves to limit a practice endorsed by government licensing that many Floridians find abhorrent.
The CRC process creates great debates and a wonderful public dialogue on who we are and who we aspire to be. Is betting on the outcome of dog racing the kind of activity we want to allow in our state? Let’s decide on this now.
More important than keeping the state constitution “clean,” is our duty to ensure that it reflects our values and limits activities that we as a society no longer support.
M. Stephen Turner and Leonard Collins are attorneys at the law firm Broad and Cassel, LLP, in Tallahassee, Florida. Broad and Cassel, LLP, represents GREY2K USA Worldwide.
Christine Dorchak is the president and general counsel of GREY2K USA Worldwide. Formed in 2001, it is the largest greyhound protection organization in the United States with more than 100,000 supporters. As a nonprofit organization, the group works to pass laws to end the cruelty of dog racing and promote the adoption of ex-racers. For more information, go to GREY2KUSA.org.
April 15, 2018 at 1:13 pm
I have been involved in Rescue
& Adoption For years. I have been to the kennel compounds of several Florida race tracks. I have seen the cruelty with my own eyes. For many many centuries the Greyhound was considered sacred & treated like Royalty. It was an honor & privilege to own one. The greed of of racing industry has stripped them of their dignity. They deserve a kinder life! Dog racing needs to end! Thank YOU!
April 15, 2018 at 3:03 pm
If the citizens of Florida held the same view concerning greyhound racing as the out of state lobbying organization Grey2K, then why didn’t at least one of these Floridians submit a public proposal to the CRC last year? It’s not like Floridians are ignorant of pari-mutuel facilities that support horse & greyhound racing along with slot machines. Submission of this proposal is geared to support the interests of two special interest groups: animal rights & expansion of gambling. Sen Tom Lee who is the main sponsor of this proposal is pocketing political contributions from both sides. While it may be true that a few tracks no longer want to support racing, they are perfectly fine with continuing to receive tax free money revenue thru ADW wagering which the state of Florida turns a blind eye and chooses to lose this stream of revenue. The same tracks and special interest groups say they are concerned about greyhound welfare but pat themselves on the back as they will continue to allow Floridians to bet on out of state greyhound racing which is no different from greyhound racing in Florida.
April 16, 2018 at 3:27 am
Closing down 12 of the last 18 tracks in the country is huge and would go a long way toward finally protecting these gentle, beautiful, creatures from the abuse put on them through Greyhound racing. One dog dying every three days at these tracks says it all. Stop the cruelty Florida. End Greyhound racing now
Wanda Gail Thach
April 19, 2018 at 6:11 pm
David, your facts are incorrect on abused greyhounds. I would ask you to visit kennels, meet the happy healthy dogs, get to know 21st century greyhounds who are treated like the professional athletes they are. Today an owner had over 5,000.00 dollars invested in an animal before it ever gets to a track to race. Professional racing has evolved. Thanks for bringing up a dog dying every 3 days on track property. This includes all dogs active and inactive rosters of which there are approximately 8 thousand. This means there is an average 1.5% mortality rate on tracks. The average domestic mortality rate is 8%, so as the professional owners and trainers state, these dogs are the healthiest dogs in the USA. Every track has a veterinarian; kennels are inspected weekly; airconditioned; heated; and their crates are large enough for me, a 140 lb female to nap in comfortably. This is not a constitutional issue at all. This is gambling interests wanting to expand and using out of state GREY2K Lobby group to plead decades old abuses that have not existed in decades. Again, I would ask all of those who have been to believe these outdated accusations, to take time to visit kennels and tracks. A great, unbiased 2017 source is The Greyhound Chronicles (google or FB) . I simply ask that voters approach their decision with an accurate knowledge of the professional greyhound in 2018. Thank you, Wanda GT
April 19, 2018 at 10:12 pm
Wanda, I was quoting from the article. Did you read it?
April 16, 2018 at 8:22 am
Greyhounds are not abused. Retired racers wouldn’t be the gentle kind dogs that they are if that were true. It would be a shame to wipe out an entire industry based on propaganda.
April 16, 2018 at 10:03 am
“Industry” being the key word. Enough said.
Wanda Gail Thach
April 19, 2018 at 6:26 pm
David, is industry a bad word? Should all industries be banned in Florida?
The tropical fish industry ? The gambling industry? Should the horse racing industry be eliminated? Those animals have jockeys. Greyhounds are born with the instinct to chase and run. They love running, just as scent hounds follow a scent. Should dogs not be trained for K-9 police work? I just wanted some clarification in why you seem to be against the most self regulated dog industry in the USA.
April 19, 2018 at 10:17 pm
Wanda, yes industry is a bad word when it pertains to a dog. I have had Sighthounds all my life, they make great pets and shouldn’t be subjected to a cruel industry that treats them like “raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories”
Wanda Gail Thach
April 19, 2018 at 6:20 pm
Thank you, Lori. During the last 3 years, I have been in professional kennels at 5 of Florida’s tracks and on several greyhound farms. Today’s kennels and farms are cleaner and smell better than most boarding facilities. These dogs are investments to owners and they want them well cared for. Many smaller hobby owners bring their retirees home as their own pets when their race career is over. The larger owners usually pay for at least a portion of their dogs retirement expenses to defray the adoption group’s who take them. I hope others will take time to go to kennels, farms, talk to Greyhound Pets of America adoption groups, and get their information up to date on these astounding athletes. It is a travesty to see good people slandered.
April 19, 2018 at 10:18 pm
By the way Wanda, see you at the polls. It’s on the ballot!
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