Part one of four editorials on state constitutional amendments on the November ballot.
Florida voters face the daunting test of understanding sometimes vague and complicated language in the 11 constitutional amendments on the November ballot -- all composed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
One sentence out of Amendment 5 illustrates the labyrinthine writing bound to bewilder voters:
"If the Legislature determines that a rule has been readopted and repeals the readopted rule, this proposed revision prohibits the court from further readopting the repealed rule without the Legislature's prior approval."
While citizen-sponsored initiatives are limited to 75 words on the ballot, the Legislature exempted itself from any brevity burden. Thus, voters will be staring down some lengthy verbiage this year. Four amendment proposals stretch out across hundreds of words, enough to test the attention span and comprehension skills of even the strongest of readers. Voter fatigue, as it's known, can be best avoided by researching these issues and deciding before entering a polling place.
Amendments must pass with a minimum of 60 percent approval for adoption.
The Herald Editorial Board will offer its recommendations on these amendments over the next few days. Today, we look at several measures that attempt to shift political power.
State governments operate like their federal counterpart, with the executive, legislative and judicial branches set up as checks and balances so one branch does not overreach its constitutional authority. This amendment would upset that balance of power, tilting it toward the Legislature, and threatens the Florida Supreme Court's independence and impartiality.
Last year Republican Speaker of the House Dean Cannon failed to break the Supreme Court into two tribunals and add three justices, all in retribution for several rulings that ran counter to his political agenda. Thus, this fresh attempt at gaining power over the judicial branch comes along -- not surprisingly, approved largely along party lines in both the Senate and House.
This so-called "judicial reform" amendment would hand the Senate confirmation powers over the governor's appointments to the high court, give the Legislature the power to repeal court rules by a simple majority instead of the two-thirds vote currently required and limit the re-adoption of repealed court stipulations (the latter provision cited above for its baffling language).
This is an abrogation of the separation of powers, a raw exercise of political muscle and a sham perpetrated under the guise of increasing court efficiency. This should be rejected.
The Republican Party of Florida now opposes the retention of three justices in an unprecedented move. Every six years, voters are asked to approve or reject justices, who do not face challengers. But the GOP entered the merit retention vote over what it termed the activist and liberal views of the three, another troubling sign of politics threatening the independence of the judiciary.
Currently, Florida State University has no opportunity to seat a student representative on the Board of Governors of the State University System. But that's only because FSU is not a member of the Florida Student Association, whose president automatically become the representative to the Board of Governors. The other state universities and their student presidents are members.
On the surface, this amendment appears to level the playing field by including FSU in the process. The measure replaces the FSA student president with the chair of the council of state university student body presidents as the student member of the Board of Governors.
That sounds fine, but digging deeper the amendment also requires that the Board of Governors organize the council of state university student body presidents. What that means is the control of the student representative shifts away from universities and students to the governors.
This is an unacceptable political switch dressed up as a solution to a real problem. This, too, should be rejected.