A closer look at Florida Constitutional Amendment 7

Amendment 7
Excerpt from 1885 Florida Constitution. Photo edited and used with permission. Credit: State Archives of Florida.

AMENDMENT 7: First responder and military member survivor benefits; public colleges and universities

BALLOT SUMMARY: “Grants mandatory payment of death benefits and waiver of certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders and military members who die performing official duties. Requires supermajority votes by university trustees and state university system board of governors to raise or impose all legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies. Establishes existing state college system as constitutional entity; provides governance structure.”

What it’s about: Proposed Florida Constitutional Amendment 7 is the second “bundled” Amendment on the November ballot – meaning it combines several topics. The Amendment has three parts, and voters can only cast a single yes or no vote for all three topics.

It would:

  1. Change the way universities go about increasing student fees such as transportation costs and health services (but not tuition costs). A supermajority – nine of the 13 members – of the university Board of Trustees would have to vote in favor of an increase (or decrease) of school fees for it to be approved. A supermajority of the state’s university system Board of Governors – 12 of the 17 members – would then have to vote in favor of the change for it to go through.
  2. Cement the already-existing framework and current governing board into the Florida Constitution for the State College System, which is made up of what used to be 2-year community colleges, though some of these colleges do offer 4-year programs for various majors such as nursing. Amendment 7 would cement into the Constitution boards of trustees, which currently exist and are appointed by the governor, that oversee their local colleges and report to the state education board.
  3. Require that the employers of first responders and other state officers who are killed in the line of duty provide death benefits to surviving family members. The state would also waive educational costs for the surviving family members if they’re working on a bachelor’s degree, graduate degree or other educational certificates. Amendment 7 applies to firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, law enforcement officers, correctional or correctional probation officers and active-duty members of the Florida National Guard or U.S. military who are stationed or living in Florida at the time of their death.

Who’s for it:

The Association of Florida Colleges supports adding the State College System to Florida’s Constitution.

Who’s against it:

The Florida Education Association and the League of Women Voters of Florida. The League opposes Amendment 7 because it requires that university boards make supermajority decisions. The League opposes supermajority rule in general and says it impedes swift decisions being made during emergencies.

Other key points:

Florida’s Constitution already provides a State University System for governing public universities. Amendment 7 would elevate the State College System to the same Constitutional level.

Federal law guarantees death benefits for the survivors of U.S. military personnel killed in the line-of-duty.

Florida law already guarantees death benefits, including covering certain educational costs (like bachelor’s and graduate degrees), for the survivors of Florida law enforcement officers, correctional and correctional probation officers.

The Amendment needs 60 percent of the vote to pass.

About this Florida Phoenix series: Florida voters could face a whopping twelve different proposed amendments to the state Constitution on Nov. 6 – one of the longest lists ever. The amendments cover a wild ride of subjects, including complex changes to tax policy, banning offshore oil drilling and greyhound racing, expanding gambling, automatically restoring voting rights for ex-felons, setting new rules on lobbying, and even whether Florida should ban vaping in public places. 

Even more challenging is that some of the amendments “bundle” several different ideas into one, meaning voters might be forced to vote for a thing they don’t like in order to approve something they want, or vice versa. (Plus, three of the amendments are mired in a legal challenge that’s before the Florida Supreme Court.)

It’s confusing, and the Phoenix is going to try in the coming days to briefly lay out all these amendments for you, explain what they will do, and tell you who supports it and who opposes it. 

Note: This story was updated at 1:04 p.m. 9/28/2018.

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