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A line forms outside the Florida Supreme Court for the investiture of the Honorable Alan Lawson as the 86th Justice of The Supreme Court of Florida in Tallahassee, Florida

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High court hears argument on dog racing ban

The Florida Supreme Court will now consider whether general election voters will get to see a constitutional amendment ending live greyhound racing.

Lawyers for the state and the Florida Greyhound Association gave argument Wednesday before the state’s seven justices. As usual, the court offered no clue when it might rule.

The association challenged the amendment, saying its ballot title and summary would mislead voters. Circuit Judge Karen Gievers already has agreed in a harshly-worded ruling, striking the measure earlier this month and calling it “outright ‘trickeration.’ ”

She said Amendment 13’s title and summary were “clearly and conclusively defective,” a legal standard developed by the Supreme Court to justify keeping proposed amendments off the ballot.

Deputy Solicitor General Jordan Pratt, who works for Attorney General Pam Bondi, defended the amendment. He told the court all the title and summary have to do is “make clear the chief legal effect of the amendment,” which they do. 

When Justice Peggy Quince suggested some voters may be interested in getting rid of dog racing but not in saying animal welfare is a “fundamental value,” Pratt said a title and summary don’t have to allude to the policy behind an amendment.

Major B. Harding, a retired Supreme Court justice who represents the Greyhound Association, had previously argued the title and summary don’t disclose that “humane treatment of animals would become a fundamental value of the people of Florida.”

But the court’s previous rulings suggest voters should be prompted not on the ‘why,’ but rather on the ‘what’ of an amendment, Pratt said. 

Harding

Harding later told the justices a vote for Amendment 13 would “constitutionally disconnect” dog racing from other gaming; slot machines in South Florida are provided for in another amendment. 

He said the language also doesn’t make clear to voters that the amendment’s passage would create “freestanding casinos” because other gambling activities would not be affected.

“Why would you include such a significant statement … and not disclose it?” Harding said. “It’s misleading and it’s inappropriate.”

Pratt, in rebuttal, suggested that dog tracks now offering card games or slots already are casinos, and taking away dog racing means just one less ‘game’ to bet on. 

The racing ban is one of eight amendments OK’d by the Constitution Revision Commission; 13 amendments in all have been set for the ballot. Amendment 13 was the first to be struck down, followed by two more this month. All amendments must get at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

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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