Key amendments falling short in early returns

8:14 PM, Nov 6, 2012   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Proposed state constitutional amendments offering expansive property tax relief, repealing Florida's ban on public funding for churches and other religious organizations and setting new limits on abortion rights were falling short of the required 60 percent approval in early returns Tuesday.

Other high-profile proposals that would cap the growth of state revenue and give the Legislature greater control over Florida's court system also were missing the mark.

So was another proposal that would prohibit the state from requiring people to obtain health insurance. It wouldn't affect a similar federal mandate that's part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, but Amendment 1's Republican supporters said it gives voters a chance to express their opposition to Obama's plan.

Of the 11 amendments on the ballot, only three were topping 60 percent, with about 40 percent of the vote counted. They target property tax relief for low-income seniors, disabled veterans and spouses of military deceased military personnel and first responders.

All were placed on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Most would advance the GOP's low-tax, small government agenda. The amendments were numbered 1 through 12 but there was no Amendment 7.

One of the most hotly contested measures was Amendment 4, which had 42 percent in favor. It offered property tax reductions for businesses, out-of-state "snowbirds" and others who own second homes in Florida and first-time home buyers.

The proposal also would let the Legislature undo a quirk that increases homeowners' tax bill if their property value goes down under the existing Save Our Homes constitutional provision. Save Our Homes otherwise caps annual assessment increases at 3 percent for primary homes, known as homesteads.

Amendment 4 was backed by the Florida Association of Realtors and other business interests as a way to boost the state's sagging economy. It was opposed by local government officials and liberal-leaning groups that argued it would further cut cash-strapped public services and raise taxes for primary homeowners to make up for benefits going to other taxpayers.

The vote was 42.5 percent for Amendment 8, which would repeal the public funding ban for religious organizations, including parochial schools. Courts, though, have permitted such spending for programs that are free of proselytizing.

Instead, the amendment would prohibit the state and local governments from barring people from participating in public programs if they choose to receive those services through religious organizations.

The Roman Catholic Church was one of the leading supporters of Amendment 8. It drew opposition from the Florida Education Association, which is the statewide teachers union, and other public school supporters as well as advocates of church-state separation.

Supporters said it would advance religious freedom. Opponents argued it would do the just the opposite and lift a potential legal barrier to new voucher programs that let students attend private schools at taxpayer expense.

Also trailing with a 45 percent favorable vote was Amendment 6, which would prohibit public funding of abortions - something the state doesn't do anyway. It also would exclude abortion from privacy rights protected by the Florida Constitution, which are stronger than those in the U.S. Constitution. It's seen by supporters and opponents alike as a step toward requiring minors to get parental consent for abortions.

The vote for the state revenue limit, Amendment 3, was 41 percent in favor. With allowances for growth in population and cost of living, the proposal is based on a similar provision in Colorado that a laundry list of critics, ranging from AARP to public employee unions, said is a proven failure.

The Colorado cap was suspended after sharp spending cuts for education and other public services. Supporters said Florida's version has safeguards against what happened in Colorado such as allowing the Legislature to override the cap with a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

Amendment 5, which would let the Senate confirm Supreme Court justices appointed by the governor and make it easier for the Legislature to veto court rules, had only 37 percent in favor. The legal community was solidly against what critics called a power grab and threat to the judiciary's independence. GOP lawmakers contended it would make the courts more accountable.

Also below 60 percent were Amendment 12, which would make a procedural change in the selection of the student member of the Board of Governors from among student body presidents at Florida's 12 public universities and Amendment 10, which would cut taxes that businesses pay on furniture, equipment and other tangible personal property.

The amendments getting more than 60 percent:

- Amendment 2 would expand a property tax break to all disabled veterans, not just those who lived in Florida when they enlisted.

- Amendment 9 would let the Legislature give property tax exemptions to spouses of service members and civilian first-responders who die in the line of duty.

- Amendment 11 would let cities and counties increase a property tax exemption for low-income seniors.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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