Monthly Archives: October 2018

2018 November Election Guide: School Board Referendum

The School Board has a proposal on the ballot for a 0.75 mil tax on property to support schools.  The tax would sunset in 2023.  The proposal is projected to raise $232 million per year. School Board members have pledged that 88 percent will go to teacher salaries and 12 percent to hiring new school security guards. If approved, the tax hike would  increase property tax  $0.75 per every $1,000 of assessed property value.  That would cost the typical homeowner $142 a year.

TL/DR – Vote for the School Board referendum

There are three reasons to vote for this, and one that leans against, so I think the ayes have it.

The reasons to be for this tax are:

  1.  The schools need the money, and teachers are in the main underpaid. (Although exactly which teachers will get what remains to be determined; and maybe we’d like to use some for more teachers?)
  2. The legislature has required that school hire security guards, but didn’t provide the funds for it. If we don’t fund that unfunded mandate through this increase, the money will come out of the budget for teachers and buildings.
  3. Other counties, including Broward, have passed similar taxes and are raising teacher salaries.  According to WLRN, 40% of Miami-Dade teachers live in Broward, so if this doesn’t pass we risk losing our best teachers to a northern competitor.

The reason to vote against this is based Miami-Dade’s long history of misusing voter-approved tax increases.  History suggests that earmarked money for one goal tends to crowd out other spending and we don’t end up much ahead in the long run.  Perhaps this time will be different because this is the School Board and not the whole Commission, so all the spending has to go on education. Maybe.

But the fact is that, given the unfunded mandate from the state legislature if nothing else, we really have no choice but to approve this tax.

Links to other November 2018 election guides:

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2018 November Election Guide: Six Florida Constitutional Amendments to Vote For

There are six worthy constitutional amendments on the ballot.

TL/DR on Amendments
Amendment 1: NO
Amendment 2: NO
Amendment 3: YES
Amendment 4: YES!!!!
Amendment 5: NO
Amendment 6: NO
Amendment 7: NO
(Note: there is no #8)
Amendment 9: YES
Amendment 10: NO
Amendment 11: YES
Amendment 12: YES
Amendment 13: YES


Amendment 4

Let’s start with the most important one: Amendment 4.  If you do nothing else with this year’s crop of amendments, you should vote for this one. Amendment 4 re-enfranchises persons convicted of felonies–excepting persons convicted of murder or rape.  Currently, Florida is a national outlier, with one of the most arbitrary, unfair, difficult, and slow procedures for felon re-enfranchisement.  Many states don’t strip voting rights at all; of those that do, most restore voting rights automatically after some number of years of good behavior. Florida has about 1.5 million people who would get their rights back with this change.  Under the current rule, their only way to get the right to vote back is to petition a committee headed by the Governor, one which operates in an utterly arbitrary manner.  (The process is so bad that it was struck down by a federal court, although the decisions has been stayed pending appeal.  Read the decision in Hand v. Scott if you want to see just how badly this committee behaves.  We used to say that when someone serves a prison term they “have served their debt to society”; why then should we keep them on a payment plan?  Research suggests that rest0ring voting rights–removing a badge of infamy–helps reintegrate prison veterans into normal life.  And, of course, there are stories of exceptional people being held back by childhood mistakes. See, for example, Getting Out.

Both the morality of restoring an important human right to former prisoners and the social science agree: vote FOR Amendment 4.

Amendment 3

Amendment 3 will block the expansion of casino gambling by requiring voter approval for new casinos.  I’ve gotten more misleading mailers about this one than anything else–the gambling people, who have way too much money, oppose it. They’ve been claiming that if we block new gambling our schools and teachers will starve to death, because, of course, there is no money for schools other than a tax on casinos?  Even if I wasn’t for Amendment 3 on the merits, I’d be for it just because who opposes it and how they have run their deceitful campaign.

There is, it should be said, a small downside to Amendment 3, but it has got nothing to do with school funding. Rather, the downside is that by blocking new entrants we entrench the monopoly position of existing casinos, which amounts to a windfall to some undeserving people. But that’s still better than bringing in even more casinos.  Casinos mean a few lousy jobs, and a lot of graft; if you’re lucky it’s the more legal sort that buys politicians.  If you are not lucky it is the less legal sourced that involves the Mafia and its grandchildren.  No thanks. Vote FOR Amendment 3.

Amendment 9

Amendment 9 will ban offshore oil and gas drilling and also ban indoor vaping.  Strange bedfellows, but since I’m for both bans, this is an easy vote.  A third part allows localities to enact even more stringent vaping restrictions.

I don’t really have much to say here.  The oil and gas rules make sense given that Florida depends on its coastline to attract tourists, and a spill thus has disastrous economic consequences even beyond the environmental ones. This is worth constitutionalizing.

Vaping strikes me as a rather weird thing in general, and also a rather weird thing to put into the constitution.  Were this an amendment on its own, I’d probably oppose it on the grounds that we should save the state constitution for important things or things that we can’t get through a gerrymandered legislature, and this is neither.  But on the merits I’m fine with it.

Amendment 11

Amendment 11 is mostly about tidying up stuff.  The most important substantive changed worked by this amendment is that it opens the door to a form of retroactive leniency.  Under current law, if the legislature softens or repeals a criminal law that changes does not, cannot, have retroactive effect.  This amendment would remove the impediment to retroactive leniency, although it would not require it.

Suppose for example that we legalize marijuana.  Under current rules anyone in jail for pot possession gets no benefit from that change.  If the amendment passes, it would be open to the legislature to say that people who violated the possession law before it was repealed would be freed.  It’s just a choice; if the legislature doesn’t want to do that, it doesn’t have to. Indeed, new prosecutions of crimes committed before repeal remains a possibility. Also, even if this amendment passes, there is no danger of retroactive increases in penalties if the legislature toughens a criminal penalty because ex post facto laws of that type are prohibited by the federal Constitution.

Other tidying includes removing unconstitutional language from the state Constitution that prohibits non-citizens from owning real property.

Amendment 12

Amendment 12 toughens a few ethics rules.  To be honest, I don’t think these changes are going to make much of a noticeable difference to local corruption, as a longer ban on people lobbying after they leave office doesn’t address what ails us. But I suppose it cannot hurt, so I’m for it.



Amendment 13

Amendment 13 will ban dog racing in Florida, and allow existing dog tracks that get to have slots only because they have a dog track to continue to host slots even after the dogs are gone.  I confess I feel like I don’t have a dog in this hunt, and that again this seems like something that belongs in legislation rather than the state Constitution, but the thing is going to pass, and there enough stories about dogs being mistreated at tracks to make me think that on the merits it is a good idea.  Note that current tracks can still display and take wagers on out-of-state dog races.

I was interested to learn last week that a majority of the 16 or so dog tracks in the USA are located in Florida. So it is possible that this amendment will have a big effect on the industry.

Links to other November 2018 election guides:

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Mugs Fit for Kopi Luwak

Actual photo of Air Force $1,280 coffee cup.
(Credit: Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman, Air Force)

Move over, $10,000 toilet seat covers–you’ve got company.

An Air Force official admitted the branch’s multiple purchases of coffee cups that break easily and cost $1,280 each “is simply irresponsible,” vowing to pursue ways to fix the mugs instead of continually buying new ones.

USA Today — not The Onion.

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2018 November Election Guide: Six Florida Constitutional Amendments to Vote Against

There are 12 ballot items relating to the Florida Constitution, due largely to the work of the Constitutional Revision Commission which had its 20-year meeting. They voted out a lot of amendments, then — wrongly, I’d argue — grouped them so that we don’t get to vote on each one individually. That is wrong on principle, and also I think bad in practice as the ballot has become even more opaque than usual.

TL/DR on Amendments
Amendment 1: NO
Amendment 2: NO
Amendment 3: YES
Amendment 4: YES!!!!
Amendment 5: NO
Amendment 6: NO
Amendment 7: NO (Note: there is no #8)
Amendment 9: YES
Amendment 10: NO
Amendment 11: YES
Amendment 12: YES
Amendment 13: YES

In this, the first of two posts on the Constitutional Amendments, I’m going to outline why you should vote NO on six of the twelve, ## 1,2, 5, 6, 7 & 10. My next post in this series will be about why you should vote YES on the other six, ## 3,4, 9, 11, 12 & 13.

It’s important to vote NO on these six proposals because not voting is almost as bad as a yes vote: in order to pass, a proposal must get 60% approval of those who vote on the issue–not 60% of those who vote as a whole. Skip voting on any one of these and you increase the odds of its passage.

Continue reading

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2018 November Election Guide: County Referendum

Miami-Dade County has five issues on my ballot (some people living in the north-east of the county have a bonus issue about incorporation). I’m for four of them.

County Referendum 1:NO
County Referendum 2:YES
County Referendum 3:YES
County Referendum 4:YES
County Referendum 5:YES.

The hardest issue is County Referendum 1, which would make the election for Clerk of Court into a non-partisan race, like the other current elected offices in the County. Some people may be tempted to vote for this on the grounds of symmetry, consistency, or tidiness, and I get that. But on the merits, I’m not sold. I do not think we have been particularly well-served by the existing supposedly non-partisan system we have for electing the Mayor or indeed the Commissioners. I think voters would have clearer choices if we had primaries and general elections rather than one big election and then a run-off if needed. The downside of the partisan approach is that it lessens the voice of NPAs who do not register with a party, and that’s a real issue. But the proof is in the pudding, and on the whole the pudding hasn’t been tasty or nutritious; indeed, it verges on toxic sometimes. So, unlike many folks I know, I’m voting NO on County Referendum 1.

County Referendum 2 is the second-hardest choice. It changes the current resign-to-run law to allow government civil service employees to run for office without having to quit their job. The new county rule would be equivalent to the existing state rule. That means, for example, that firefighters, police officers, and teachers could run for office without quitting. Supporters say it will open up the pool to people with relevant experience who can’t afford to take the risk of quitting their jobs to run. Opponents say it will give an unfair advantage, almost as subsidy, to ‘insiders’ who are already in government, and that staying on after election could create conflicts of interest. On balance, I’m voting YES on County Referendum 2, because I think asking people to quit a job on the chance they might get elected seems wrong. But again I know people who are going the other way.

County Referendum 3 is a no-brainer. Currently, the county’s lawyers don’t rule on the adequacy of the wording of ordinances proposed to be passed by referendum until after the signatures have been collected. If the lawyers find a problem, all that effort is wasted. This change will have the lawyers do their review at the start of the process rather than at the end. I’m voting YES on County Referendum 3, and really can’t see what the downside could be.

County Referendum 4 formalizes existing practice of dropping a candidate from a race if he or she dies. It could result in some candidates being elected effectively unopposed, since there is no provision for the appointment of a substitute. Nevertheless, I’m voting YES on County Referendum 4, as overall it makes the rules clearer.

County Referendum 5 proposes prohibiting people from paying workers or organizations based on how how many signatures they get for a petition. Importantly, this would NOT prohibit paying petition-gathers as they could still be paid by the hour. It would, however, remove a major incentive for fraudulent actions, since the petition-gather’s wage would no longer be tied to the number of signatures reported. That, despite some ads you hear on the radio, would be a good thing. Vote YES on County Referendum 5.

Links to other November 2018 election guides:

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2018 November Election Guide: Judges

Here, belatedly (early voting has already begun!), is Part I of some recommendations on the undercard of your ballot. I will start with the judges. Future parts forthcoming Real Soon Now™ will be coming soon.

In my part of South Florida we have four appellate Judges up for retention, and one run-off election for state Circuit Judge on the 11th Judicial Circuit.

I intend to vote to retain all four District Court of Appeal Judges:

▪Kevin Emas: Yes
▪Ivan F. Fernandez: Yes
▪Norma Shepard Lindsey: Yes
▪Robert Joshua Luck: Yes

All have good ratings from the Florida Bar poll:
Kevin Emas: 92 percent.
Ivan F. Fernandez: 87 percent.
Norma Shepard Lindsey: 85 percent.
Robert Joshua Luck: 90 percent.

As I’ve said before, I approach retention elections with a presumption that Judges should be retained unless they have given us a good reason not to do so; happily, to the best of my knowledge, there’s no such reason in any of these four cases.

In the run-off for Group 14 of the state 11th Judicial Circuit (not to be confused with the federal appeals court of that name!), I endorsed Renee Gordon in August and I’m going to vote for her again, as opposed to Vivianne del Rio, the other candidate who survived the first round. As I wrote in August,

I endorsed Renee Gordon the last time she ran, noting that she is is a “former Public Defender who has been litigating for 20+ years, of which twelve were in private practice. She also has a long resume of working with troubled children in various managerial and legal capacities. This is a great background for a Judge – in the trenches and there for a long time.” She almost won last time, and I’ll vote for her again. That said, both other candidates, Louis Martinez and Vivianne del Rio, sound like people who would make decent judges. Del Rio is an ASA, Martinez is a former AUSA. FWIW, the Herald endorses Gordon too.

Happily, whoever wins we should be fine.

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