- The constitutional revision committee has proposed several amendments to the Florida Constitution
- Judge has thrown out the amendment relating to dog racing, finding “outright trickeration”
- More Amendments have been challenged in court for misleading summaries
At least four of the proposed constitutional amendments intended for the fall ballot from the Constitutional Revision Commission [CRC] are now facing legal challenges that the ballot summaries mislead voters. This week, a judge in Tallahassee has ruled that one of them, Amendment 13-which would ban dog racing, cannot be placed on the ballot because the descriptive language that summarizes the measure would be misleading. The judge found that the Title and Summary of the language is “clearly and conclusively defective”. An amendment cannot go before voters if the Title and Summary of the ballot measure do not let the voter know the true effect and extent of what the amendment would do. In this case, for instance, the title suggests the amendment “ENDS DOG RACING” and ends wagering on dog races; but the amendment does not, in fact, accomplish that. The court found that the Title and Summary do not comply with the Constitutional and statutory requirements of “truth in packaging”, and that the language “hides the ball” and amounts to outright “trickeration“.
The language of the Title and Summary was crafted by the CRC, presumably to increase the likelihood of the amendments passing. After the CRC decided what amendments it wanted to place on the ballot, it combined several of them into joint ballot measures, sometimes with several issues (20 would-be Amendments became 8 ballot measures). That immediately jumps out as problematic, as generally Amendments are for broad areas of the law, not discreet issues. And the issues often don’t go together, for instance, vaping and offshore drilling have been combined into one ballot measure. The likely reason is that the Commission, which is largely a partisan one, want to slide through less popular issues with popular-sounding ones which are more likely to pass. And to increase the likelihood of passage, the CRC created Title and Summary sections that may not clearly indicate the effect of the proposed amendments.
This sneaky tactic has opened the amendments to challenge from detractors, who are trying to keep the amendments off the ballot based on the misleading language that could trick the voter… and the dog racing amendment is the first casualty. There are several other amendments facing similar lawsuits: Amendment 8 relating to charter schools has been challenged for being “intentionally misleading” and has garnered support from a former Supreme Court justice, several counties have sued to stop Amendment 10 related to government structure, and importantly for this blog, the so-called victim’s rights amendment has been challenged as well.
I call it “so-called” victim’s rights amendment, because in addition to victim’s rights, it would also affect judicial retirement ages and affect judge’s ability to defer to agency findings… three quite disparate purposes. The suit has been filed by respected local attorney Lee Hollander, who points out that due to victim’s rights already enshrined in our Constitution, “there’s no need for it”, as we already have extensive victim protections. No only that, the new rights the amendment would impede on the rights of the Defendant, in violation of the Federal Constitution, and likely cost the state dearly to comply with the superfluous requirements. The challenge to the lawsuit focuses not on whether the amendment is necessary, rather it alleges that the Title and Summary mislead the voter.
You might notice a trend here… four unrelated groups have all filed suit on four different proposed amendments, and they all allege that the voters would be misled by the language of the proposal. Regardless if you support the cause of the amendments, it is essential for all of us to know what might end up being included in our state’s Constitution. The fact that there are similar complaints about multiple ballot measures, suggest that the misleading language was part of a deliberate ploy by the CRC to sneak some of these issues through. Most of these issues really shouldn’t be Constitutional amendments anyway, they are the type of issues that should be deliberated and legislated to fit our statutory scheme. Attorney General Pam Bondi indicates she’s going to appeal the first ruling, because she supports the ban, but the problem is not the subject of the proposal, but the misleading way it was presented. There will probably be more measures taken off the ballot as the suits go through the courts. The blame falls squarely on the CRC, which deliberately drafted these proposals to hide the ball and deceive voters. We should be glad when they are called out on their “trickeration”.