TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida voters on Tuesday shot down legislatively proposed constitutional changes dealing with abortion, local government tax caps and a ceremonial shrug at Obamacare as they rejected eight of 11 proposals put before them by Republican lawmakers.
While rejecting most of the proposals, voters did approve a handful of modest property tax breaks for military veterans, first responders and low-income seniors. Those tax breaks were not generally opposed by local government groups and will not have significant impact on already cash-strapped cities and counties.
But overall, Florida voters rebuffed legislative efforts to make significant constitutional changes, with most measures failing to gain the 60 percent approval rating needed to pass. In many cases, a majority of voters opposed the proposals.
One of the most controversial measures, Amendment 6, would have prohibited state funds from being spent on abortions, unless the health of the mother was in danger. The proposal also whittled away at privacy protections in Florida's constitution that have been used to overturn abortion restrictions in recent years including a parental consent requirement for minors seeking an abortion.
When the votes were counted, 55 percent of voters rejected the amendment outright, a margin of victory that abortion rights advocates say they hope will curtail legislative attempts to expand restrictions on the procedure.
"We hope that Tallahassee politicians will now turn their attention to expanding health care instead of trying to take away existing health coverage that women need," said Lillian Tamayo, campaign chairwoman for Vote No On 6.
Another closely watched amendment also went down as voters rejected Amendment 8, which would have made it clear that government money is free to be spent on religious groups.
The proposal was backed by religious groups including the Catholic Church and was seen as a precursor to allowing state education funds to finance religious backed schools. Voters rejected the amendment by a 56-44 percent margin.
Local governments also flexed their muscle Tuesday, defeating a handful of amendments, including one that would have limited the increase in local revenue to inflation and population growth.
The Florida Association of Counties led efforts to scuttle Amendment 3, saying it would hamstring already cash-strapped local officials by limiting the ability of cities and counties to raise necessary revenue.
Voters also rejected Amendment 4, which reduced the cap on tax assessment increases for non-residential property from 10 percent to 5 percent while providing additional exemptions for first-time homebuyers and all homeowners if the market value of their property drops.
Critics said expanding the "Save our Homes" protections to second homes and other commercial property would make it even more difficult to pay for schools, roads and other local infrastructure financed through property taxes.
"The defeat of Amendment 4 is a major win for home rule and Florida's year-round taxpayers," said Cragin Mosteller, spokeswoman for the county group. "Voters have clearly signaled their support for the principles of home rule and commonsense tax policy that truly puts Florida's residents first."
A slate of three less dramatic property tax proposals, Amendment 2, Amendment 9 and Amendment 11 were the only proposals to meet the 60 percent threshold.
Amendment 2 would allow combat disabled veterans to be eligible for an additional homestead exemption while Amendment 9 would provide a break to the spouses of deceased veterans and emergency responders.
Likewise, low-income seniors would be given an additional homestead tax break under Amendment 11, which garnered just under 61 percent of the vote.
Among other amendments that went down to defeat Tuesday were:
AMENDMENT 1: A ceremonial slap at the federal Patient Protection Act, which would have barred the state from requiring citizens to carry health insurance. The proposal was largely moot as federal law would preempt state law on the health care issue.
AMENDMENT 5: The proposal would have required Senate confirmation for state Supreme Court justices appointed by the governor, making it easier for lawmakers to influence court procedural rules.
AMENDMENT 10: The proposal would have increased the exemption on tangible personal property from $25,000 to $50,000.
AMENDMENT 12: The proposal would have changed the way the student member of the State University System's Board of Governors is chosen.