THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Circuit Court Tosses Amendment 3

Jul 23, 2010

The following article was published by The News Service of Florida on July 23, 2010:


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, July 23, 2010……A Tallahassee circuit judge on Friday threw out a proposed constitutional amendment he said could mislead property owners who wouldn’t be eligible for the benefits that seem to be promised by the proposal.

Less than a day after hearing arguments, Circuit Judge John Cooper tossed Amendment 3 from the November ballot, saying the measure’s ballot title and summary doesn’t mention the effective date, which could lead voters to incorrectly assume they were eligible for additional homestead exemption benefits, which are in fact limited to some buyers of homes purchased after Jan. 1, 2010.

Cooper’s ruling is expected to be appealed. Amendment 3 was crafted by lawmakers in 2009 to boost home sales by offering some homebuyers additional tax relief. It is the second legislative proposal to be axed so far and is among seven of nine constitutional amendments being challenged.

“Neither the title nor the summary provide notice that the additional exemption is only available for properties purchased on or after Jan.1, 2010,” Cooper wrote. “The failure of the title to give notice of this condition is materially misleading.”

Cooper went on to say that some voters could vote in favor of the amendment thinking they were going to get a tax break while others may vote against it convinced it would reduce tax revenue more drastically than it would.  

Amendment 3 would allow buyers who have not owned a home for eight years the opportunity to gather an additional homestead exemption on property purchased in Florida since January 1 of this year.

The Florida AFL-CIO and a Jacksonville homeowner, who doesn’t qualify for the exemption, challenged the amendment, which would offer qualified homebuyers an additional 25 percent in the first year and continue the exemption on a declining schedule for four more years.
 Another provision in the amendment would reduce the cap on non-homestead assessment increases to 5 percent a year, down from a 10 percent cap now in place.

Backers of the amendment say it is an attempt to narrow the gap in property values brought on by the 1992 Save Our Homes constitutional amendment that caps assessment increases on homestead property to 3 percent a year. That amendment has resulted in a growing disparity between the assessed property values of long-time home buyers and new purchasers and commercial property owners, who argue they are getting hit with higher taxes.

“At the very least, the phraseology of the title and summary are ambiguous as to this material eligibility requirement,” Cooper concluded. “Voters might well vote for or against the proposed amendment based upon a misunderstanding of the requirement.”

Friday’s ruling is the latest in a continuing barrage of legal developments involving proposed constitutional amendments. The Supreme Court is reviewing challenges involving three proposals dealing with legislative and congressional redistricting. Two of those, Amendments 5 and 6, are citizen initiatives designed to curtail gerrymandering.

Amendment 7, adopted by lawmakers earlier this year to supercede the effects of Amendments 5 and 6 was struck down July 8 by Circuit Judge James Shelfer, who said it took him three days to divine what the proposal would do. That case is also expected to be addressed by the state’s highest court.

Amendment 9, which would block federal requirements for citizens to buy health insurance, also is being challenged. A Circuit Court hearing is set for July 29 in Tallahassee.  Challenges have also been filed on Amendment 4, which deals with citizen approval of proposed growth plan changes and Amendment 8, which tweaks the state’s class size limit.

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