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Voters Line Up Behind Constitutional Amendments

Gainesville voters hold up signs outside of Westside Recreation Center precinct 26, urging people to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6. (Jillian Chabot/WUFT News)
Gainesville voters hold up signs outside of Westside Recreation Center precinct 26, urging people to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6. (Jillian Chabot/WUFT News)

Felons will get voting rights automatically restored after serving their sentences, vaping in workplaces will be illegal and greyhound racing will be banned in Florida under a series of constitutional amendments approved Tuesday.

In all, voters were headed toward passing 11 of the 12 amendments on the ballot. As of 9:45 p.m., the only amendment that was short of getting the required 60 percent voter approval was Amendment 1, which would increase a homestead property-tax exemption.

More than 64 percent of Florida voters had cast ballots for Amendment 4, which is designed to restore voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million felons who have completed their sentences. It would not apply to felons convicted of murder and sex offenses.

Florida is one of four states that doesn’t automatically restore voting rights. Instead, the current system requires felons who have completed their sentences to wait five years and then seek clemency from the governor and Cabinet.

“Today, Floridians from all walks of life and political persuasions came together to make Florida a better democracy and affirm our shared value that when a debt is paid, it’s paid,” Desmond Meade, chairman of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, a group that led efforts to pass the amendment, said in a prepared statement. “Our victory today shows that if we unify around our shared values, reaching out across parties and beyond politics as usual, we all win.”

Voters faced a lengthy ballot when they went to the polls, in part because of the dozen proposed constitutional amendments.

The majority of the amendments were put on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, a group that meets every 20 years and has the authority to place measures directly on the ballot.

The 37-member commission met for months before putting seven of the amendments on the ballot. The other five were placed on the ballot by the Legislature or by petition initiatives.

The Constitution Revision Commission took heat for combining unrelated topics in proposed amendments, with some of the amendments drawing legal challenges.

But bundling issues did not impact Amendment 9, which called for banning offshore oil drilling and banning vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces. The measure was touted as an environmental amendment to ensure clean air and clean water.

“As expected, Floridians have affirmed that they are opposed to offshore oil drilling and furthermore believe that they have the right to breath clean air when in enclosed workspaces,” said Constitution Revision Commission member Lisa Carlton, a former state senator, said in a statement to The News Service of Florida.

Voters also agreed to pass Amendment 13, which will ban greyhound racing at state pari-mutuels by 2021. Sonia Stratemann, a greyhound racing opponent, said the vote will save “thousands and thousands of greyhounds from being bred into a cruel industry. “

Amendment 13 faced fierce opposition from greyhound breeders and owners and the National Rifle Association’s Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, who urged members to defeat the measure, saying that a provision could open to the door to ban hunting and fishing.

“This is proof when you speak up and work hard and fight for something you believe in,  good things will happen,” Stratemann said.

Another gambling amendment Florida voters approved Tuesday was Amendment 3. The amendment was supported by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Disney Worldwide Services, Inc., which combined to pour tens of millions of dollars into the effort.

The amendment, which had more than 71 percent of the vote, requires Florida voters to approve any expansion of gambling in Florida. That is expected to make it harder to expand gambling.

John Sowinski, president of Voters In Charge, the political committee behind the proposal, said the amendment puts people --- not politicians and lobbyists --- in control of casino gambling.

“Florida voters have kicked open the doors of Tallahassee’s back rooms and demanded an end to gambling industry influence in the hallways of the capitol,” Sowinski said in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, nearly 79 percent of voters supported Amendment 12, which would expand lobbying restrictions on lawmakers and other state officials after they leave their positions.

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.