Opinion: Don’t let Amendments 6 through 13 Diminish Our Constitution

Jeff Kottkamp
Former Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp

In 2002 an extreme animal rights group successfully pushed for a constitutional amendment to ban the use of cages or crates to confine pregnant pigs. Since the amendment only effected two pig farmers in Florida there was no organized opposition to the amendment. After seeing a series of deceptive TV ads in support of the amendment, it was passed by the voters with 55% of the vote.

What voters were not told is that government can’t take away someone’s property without providing compensation. After the amendment was passed one of the pig farmers impacted by the amendment successfully sued the state and was ultimately paid more than $1 million in tax payer money.

The idea of putting pregnant pigs in our state Constitution, along such fundamental rights as freedom of speech and religious freedom, was too much for many state leaders. The Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives formed a Select Committee on Constitutional Amendments. I had the privilege as serving as a Vice Chair of the committee.

Our task was to find a way to filter out amendments like the pregnant pig amendment so we could prevent the “Californication” of our state Constitution. California had made a habit of passing amendments pushed by special interest groups if they were unsuccessful in convincing their elected representatives to pass as a law. As a result, California’s Constitution had become littered with bad ideas that crippled their budget and diminished the true purpose of having a constitution.

The select committee considered a number of approaches including the use of a subject matter filter to make sure proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution were “constitutional” in nature. We believed deeply that the Constitution should be used to enumerate our fundamental rights and to set out the structure of government. Anything beyond that should be accomplished through the legislative process. Most of us on the committee shared the view that if an idea couldn’t get through the legislature then it probably wasn’t a very good idea—and it certainly didn’t belong in our Constitution.

Unfortunately, the House Select Committee on Constitutional Amendments was never able to come to an agreement with the Florida Senate on the appropriate language to use as a filter for constitutional amendments. This left us with only one alternative—raise the bar to pass amendments. We settled on a requirement that amendments to the Constitution receive at least 60% approval from voters — which is the current standard.

This year there are 12 proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Seven of the proposed amendments (6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13) were put on the ballot by an unelected Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) that meets every twenty years. Most of those amendments contain more than one subject matter (bundling) and require voters to support everything in the proposed amendment even if they only support part of the measure (logrolling). The use of bundling in the amendment process is frankly an insult to the voters of Florida. If an idea is good enough to be in the Constitution—it should be good enough to stand on its own.

The fact that the amendments were placed on the ballot by the CRC in such a deceptive way is reason enough to vote against amendments 6 through 13. All of the subjects contained in amendments 6-13 could easily be addressed by our elected Legislature. The conclusion reached in Florida Tax Watch 2018 Voter Guide explaining its recommendation to vote “No” on amendment 13 gets to the heart of the matter:

“The constitution loses much of its significance as the foundational instrument of government when the process of constitutional amendment or revision is used as a substitute for legislation. Incorporating what is essentially a legislative matter into the constitution undercuts the legislative process and limits the area of legislative responsibility and discretion. Once incorporated, it is extremely difficult to remove what is essentially a statutory provision from the Constitution.

The contents of the Florida Constitution should be limited to matters that are essential or fundamental. Matters that are ordinarily handled through the legislative process, such as banning greyhound racing, should be excluded from the Constitution.

The reasoning used in the Tax Watch Voter Guide applies to all of the amendments put on the ballot by the CRC. None of the amendments belong in our Constitution. For that reason — I say vote “No” on 6 through 13.