Economists review impact of abortion rights amendment … again
Amy Baker (File photo by Colin Hackley)

'There’s been all kinds of words like "misleading" thrown around. There’s nothing misleading in what we were attempting to do.'

A much-anticipated redo of ballot wording that will accompany the citizen initiative on abortion access has gotten underway even as a legal battle over the wording remains unsettled.

State officials gathered for hours to begin the task of reworking the financial impact statement that will appear on the November ballot with Amendment 4. The need to rework the statement came after a circuit court Judge agreed with the group backing the amendment that it was misleading. The economists are scheduled to meet again July 8.

But in a sign of how important the wording of this financial impact statement could be, both the House and the Governor’s Office included within the estimating conference people who are not normally part of the process. Both Gov. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Paul Renner are publicly opposed to the amendment.

The Governor’s Office, for example, tapped former budget chief Chris Spencer to serve as the Governor’s Office representative on the estimating conference. Spencer recently had switched over to a new job at the State Board of Administration. Michael J. New an assistant professor of social research at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America, said he was representing the Governor’s Office, as well.

The House sent Rachel Greszler as its representative on the economic panel, officially called the Financial Impact Estimating Conference (FIEC). Greszler is a Senior Research Fellow for the Roe Institute, and focuses on retirement and labor policies such as Social Security, disability insurance, pensions and worker compensation.

And in another unusual move, FIEC member and the state’s chief economist, Amy Baker, took a point of personal privilege to defend the conference’s previous review of the potential impact of Amendment 4. That review was conducted prior to a Florida Supreme Court ruling in April that allowed a six-week abortion ban to take effect.

“There’s been all kinds of words like ‘misleading’ thrown around. There’s nothing misleading in what we were attempting to do,” Baker said, responding to criticisms. “We weren’t attempting to be misleading. We were trying to deal with a situation when we had no idea what the baseline would be in November. And anybody listening to the tapes (of the meetings) to the kinds of discussion we had, would know that.”

The group that is sponsoring the amendment — Floridians Protecting Freedom — challenged the wording of the impact statement that had been previously drawn up by members of an impact conference.

That statement was worked on and released months prior to the Florida Supreme Court decision that triggered the current six-week ban. It also mentioned a previous 15-week ban that is no longer in effect and how additional litigation was possible. In the end, economists said that because of several outcomes, they could not determine if the measure would have any impact on state or local revenues.

Circuit Court Judge John C. Cooper ruled the statement was “inaccurate, ambiguous, misleading, unclear and confusing” and should be redone before it goes on the ballot.

On Monday, FIEC members listened to public testimony from both sides of the abortion debate about what the financial impact statement on the ballot should say.

Tallahassee lawyer Jason Gonzalez said the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration would be “ground zero” for lawsuits, which would be filed in both circuit court and state administrative court.

Gonzalez testified that outside legal costs would amount to between $3 million and $5 million annually for the next two to three decades.

Attorney costs, he said, would most likely “triple that if you count in-house counsel for the agencies.”

Gonzalez predicted that abortion proponents would litigate a bevy of laws that, if Amendment 4 passed, would be considered a barrier to abortion, including the state’s parental notification requirement for minors seeking abortions. There also could be challenges to a state law that bans the Medicaid program from paying for abortions.

The amendment does not address access to abortions, Baker noted, but only precludes the state from putting obstacles in the way of women obtaining them.

The FIEC is required by law to review, analyze and estimate the financial impact of amendments to, or revisions of, the state constitution proposed by initiative.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.

One comment

  • Ron Ogden

    July 1, 2024 at 11:20 pm

    The economists review abortion: “let’s see, that would 6,302 heads, 12, 510 arms (some spoiled), at least 12,000 eyes–we have to maximize the count of those–they’re valuable, and thousands of rectums, one each for all those who voted for abortion. Ring ’em up and don’t forget the sales tax! It’s a lovely day in the Ways and Means Committee.”

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