Proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution: Help interpret!

There are six proposed amendments to Florida’s constitution that will be on the ballot this November. I need a bit of help figuring out the legalese:

Amendment 1:

*Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to delete provisions authorizing the Legislature to regulate or prohibit the ownership, inheritance, disposition, and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship. *

I think this is saying that there are currently laws on the books that prohibit illegal aliens from owning, selling, or inheriting property, and that this amendment would remove those laws.

Amendment 2:

*This amendment protects marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and provides that no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized. *

I got this one…it’s to ban gay marriage. I will be voting no.

Amendment 3:

*Authorizes the Legislature, by general law, to prohibit consideration of changes or improvements to residential real property which increase resistance to wind damage and installation of renewable energy source devices as factors in assessing the property’s value for ad valorem taxation purposes. Effective upon adoption, repeals the existing renewable energy source device exemption no longer in effect. *

I think this one is saying if you make improvements to your home to make it greener or protect against wind damage, those improvements cannot be factored into your property value with regards to property taxes.

Amendment 4:

*Requires Legislature to provide a property tax exemption for real property encumbered by perpetual conservation easements or other perpetual conservation protections, defined by general law. Requires Legislature to provide for classification and assessment of land used for conservation purposes, and not perpetually encumbered, solely on the basis of character or use. Subjects assessment benefit to conditions, limitations, and reasonable definitions established by general law. Applies to property taxes beginning in 2010. *

I think this one says if you cannot use part of your property because it’s been designated a wetland or what have you, you get a tax break.

Amendment 5:

*Provides for assessment based upon use of land used predominantly for commercial fishing purposes; land used for vessel launches into waters that are navigable and accessible to the public; marinas and drystacks that are open to the public; and water-dependent marine manufacturing facilities, commercial fishing facilities, and marine vessel construction and repair facilities and their support activities, subject to conditions, limitations, and reasonable definitions specified by general law. *

They’ve lost me on this one.

Amendment 6:

*Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to require that the Legislature authorize counties to levy a local option sales tax to supplement community college funding; requiring voter approval to levy the tax; providing that approved taxes will sunset after 5 years and may be reauthorized by the voters. *

I think this one says county and city governments, with voter approval, have to pass a sales tax to fund community colleges.

Thanks, guys!

Oh, thank OG. I thought I was just stupid. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of these. I was getting ready to post something similar.

I know! Is there a special class in law school called The Art of Writing Law: How to Make Simple Things as Complicated as Possible 101?

#5 doesn’t apply to you unless you own a marina or waterfront property. It just clarifies some tax assessment issues to bring them in line with the rest of the law.

I believe you are correct in your interpretation of the rest, and I’m glad you are voting No on #2.

It actually doesn’t quite say that. It says the current Constitution authorizes the legislature to regulate the ownership of real property by illegal aliens, and this amendment would take that power away from the legislature (presumably making unconstitutional any laws which may have been enacted under that power.)

The other ones kinda make my eyes glaze over.

Thanks…now, why would there be a proposed amendment to make local gov’t entities help fund community colleges? Isn’t that a state responsibility?

friedo, who would then regulate property ownership by illegal aliens?

I guess it would have the effect that the same statutes that regulate property ownership by terrestrial Floridians would have to also apply to those from Mars.

From the Gainesville Sun (there are a lot of sites out there that interpret these, in case you want a different interpretation):

#2 appears to prevent not only same-sex marriage, but any form of same-sex civil union, from being recognized in Florida. (I’m getting that from the phrase “substantial equivalent thereof”.)

#3 seems a bit odd to me because it looks like the sort of thing the Legislature should be able to do without changing the state constitution. But maybe the Florida constitution gets real specific about property tax assessment.

Presumably property owned by “aliens ineligible for citizenship” would be subject to federal laws on aliens owning property, and to ordinary Florida laws on the ownership of property by anyone (alien or not).

Does “aliens ineligible for citizenship” really mean illegal aliens? It presumably includes aliens residing outside the United States, who may never have set foot in the United States, but who still want to invest in property in Florida. It might also include aliens in the United States on temporary visas (such as student and employment visas) who might want to buy property to live there. And it might even include permanent residents who have not yet resided in the US long enough to apply for citizenship.

(My wife and I bought a house in Ohio when we were aliens living in the US on temporary visas. We were ineligible for citizenship, but we were not “illegal aliens”.)

Got it…I misinterpreted that.

Changing the state constitution has become the standard way of getting things done in Florida. It’s one of the easier ways for the citizenry at large to force a vote on a particular issue. Most likely, the legislature already has the power to enact the provisions of #3 – the amendment is just intended to force them to do so.

Yeah, it’s a kooky system.

My Legal Drafting professor hated legalese with a passion. Anyone who drafted mock statutes in this fashion would have failed her class. Unfortunately there are others who believe that legalese is the only way to go.

Just for the record, I’m a member of the Florida Bar and I had trouble sorting out some of these amendments. I wonder how many people will vote “yes” or “no” without knowing what their vote signifies.

Ah, one of those states, eh? I’ve long thought there’s something illogical about allowing direct elections to change the constitution but not the regular statutes.

I’m glad to see this thread, I’d gotten a sample ballot in the mail and wondered about it all. It strikes me as odd to have so many constitutional amendments on the ballot.

The problem with directly changing the statutes is that there’s nothing to keep the legislature from changing them later. If the legislature and the public at large were already in agreement, then such measures would be unnecessary.

It’s a messy solution, but I don’t see an ideal way to fix it.

Placing constitutional amendments on the ballot has its good and bad points. The bad part is that it often seems to be the result of the State failing to exhibit leadership by putting issues in the hands of the people. But I think this is outweighed by the fact that this is closer to the democratic ideal. If folks feel strongly about an amendment, this is a good way to hear the mandate of the citizens.

Require a supermajority of legislators to alter any law passed by ballot initiative. That, plus the political cost of opposing the supposed will of the people, would make it pretty hard for the legislature to interfere.

I was going to ask this very question, and I appreciate the discussion of the particularities of the Florida political system. But then, that leads to my next question … how freakin’ long is the Florida State Constitution, if it’s being used as, effectively, a workaround for a broken legislative process?

Correct. For “aliens”, in this context, just think non-Americans.

Americans have generally, and correctly, reacted to non-American property ownership with a shrug. Foreign investment is good for America, just as most foreign countries welcome American investment.

From time to time, however, there has been concern about furriners “buying up America”. There was a kerfluffle during the 1980’s, for example, when Japanese investors bought the Rockefeller Center. On rare occasions one hears similar sentiment today about the Arabs or Chinese.

As a result, some legislatures, now and then, have restricted the practice. The Florida Constitution, written in 1926, empowers its legislature to do so if it wishes.

The legislature has not done so. You can read a summary of state law on foreign property ownership here (pdf). Florida, like many states, has no restrictions. Some states have a simple disclosure requirement.

This amendment therefore proposes to remove a power from the legislature, which it is not currently exercising. Why bother? I don’t know. Investors dislike uncertainty, and maybe a Florida land owner lost a sale because a foreign buyer feared that the legislature might require him or her to sell at some future date. Or maybe the legislature just wants to clear some dead wood out of the constitution.

In any case, I see no reason not to vote for this amendment. But then, I don’t live in Florida.