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Justices OK ‘bundling,’ amendments will go to voters

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared three proposed constitutional amendments for the Nov. 6 ballot, narrowly rejecting a challenge by retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead that they improperly bundled multiple items.

In an unsigned opinion, the majority ruled that the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) was within its authority under state law, and the state and U.S. constitutions, to lump disparate ideas into what became Amendments 7, 9, and 11.

The vote was 4-3.

Such “logrolling” is improper when done by the Legislature or citizen initiative. But the CRC process “embodies adequate safeguards to protect against logrolling and deception,” the opinion says.

Anstead and fellow plaintiff Robert Barnas, a former state elections commissioner, had argued such bundling violates voters’ First Amendment right “to cast a meaningful vote on each independent and unrelated proposal.” The majority said that was “a novel theory with no apparent support in the law.”

— Amendment 7 would grant death benefits and waive some educational expenses for survivors of military personnel and first responders; require supermajorities among university overseers to raise fees; and establish the state college system as a constitutional entity.

— Amendment 9 would ban both drilling for oil and natural gas in state waters and using vaping devices in indoor workplaces.

— Amendment 11 mixes elimination of a ban on owning property by aliens ineligible for citizenship with a prohibition on retroactive application of changes in the criminal law.

(A summary of the amendments is here.)

Chief Justice Charles Canady signed the majority opinion, as did justices Jorge Labarga, Alan Lawson, and Ricky Polston. Canady, Lawson and Polston are considered the court’s conservative contingent.

Of the three more liberal-leaning members, Justice Barbara Pariente wrote an opinion, joined by Justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince, concurring with the result on procedural ground but disagreeing with the majority on substance.

“Voters beware!” Pariente wrote, pointing to “the obvious dangers of logrolling — combining popular and unpopular proposals into a single proposal — even by the CRC.”

She dismissed the purported CRC anti-logrolling safeguards, noting that the actual bundling occurred after public hearings had closed.

“The bottom line is that the ultimate authority to amend the Constitution rests with the voters in this state,” Pariente wrote.

“By bundling multiple, independent and unrelated proposals, combining ‘popular’ amendments with controversial amendments on the ballot, the CRC makes it more difficult for voters to intelligently exercise their right to vote.

“Indeed, in some cases, bundling prohibits voters from exercising this right altogether because it forces them to reject proposals they would otherwise approve because they disapprove of another unrelated controversial proposal,” she added.

Environmental organizations praised the ruling’s application to Amendment 9.

“Tourism is Florida’s biggest industry, and drilling is just not worth the risk,” said Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

“Drilling is dirty business. Thousands of oil spills happen every year in U.S. waters, and increasingly intense hurricanes add to the risk of oil spills,” she said.

“While there is currently a ban for near-shore drilling in Florida’s waters, state lawmakers could easily lift that, and they tried before,” executive director Stephen Smith said.

“Florida needs this constitutional amendment to ensure long-term protection of the state’s coasts, including its beautiful beaches and marine life, which help drive the state’s robust tourism economy.”

Written By

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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