POINT OF VIEW: Rely on own understanding of amendments before voting

The May 6 Point of View op-ed written by Brecht Heuchan, chairman of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, is a disingenuous crock of spin. Heuchan states that “omitting facts that are contrary to the desired effect is disingenuous” as he omits salient facts. He then goes on to list ideas that he describes as “wildly popular.” The spin arises when he fails to mention that these ideas are bundled with other ideas that may be very unpopular.

The description of one of the proposed amendments is: “Establishes school board term limits, allows state to operate non-board established schools, and requires civic literacy in public education.” Are “school board term limits wildly popular?” How about “allows state to operate non-board established schools…?” How many voters will immediately recognize that “non-board established schools” is a euphemism for charter schools and that the intent is to remove any control of charter schools from local school boards and hand it to the state? Heuchan claims that “The ballot language of these proposals is clear and easily understood.” Really?

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Another proposal reads: “Prohibits counties from abolishing certain local offices, changes start date of legislative sessions, and adds an executive office and executive department to constitution.” In plain English, this is another example of abolishing local control of how some counties, such as Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade, choose officers such as the sheriff, the tax collector, the property appraiser, the clerk of the circuit court, etc. “The actual language is “to remove authority for a county charter or a special law to provide for choosing specified county officers in a manner other than election and to prohibit a county charter from abolishing specified county officers, transferring duties of a county officer to another officer or office, changing the length of terms of county officers, or establishing any manner of selection of county officers other than by election.” The two most important words are “remove authority.” The public had been given no explanation of why we need another executive office and executive department.

The description of a popular amendment is “prohibits betting on dog races,” while the actual language is “prohibits the racing of or wagering on greyhound and other dogs.” Will voters understand that they are eliminating dog racing or think they are eliminating only gambling on dogs?

Finally, it’s interesting to note the popular proposals that the commission refused to place on the ballot. These include banning military-type weapons and eliminating a loophole that disenfranchises millions of Floridians during primary elections by allowing write-in candidates who have no intention of actually running to close primary elections. This proposal was strongly supported by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg.

In order to intelligently cast a vote on the constitutional amendments that will appear on the November ballot, it is critical that voters carefully study the real meaning of each prior to making decisions. We have to rely on local newspapers throughout the state to provide the critical information.


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