Minimum wage, petition rules, slots on ballot

Voters will have to sort out the conflicting claims on the proposed amendments.


Published: Monday, November 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 1, 2004 at 5:43 a.m.

Facts

AMENDMENTS AT A GLANCE

Here are is a summary of a few of the proposed constitutional amendments on Tuesday's ballot:

  • Amendment 1 - Teen Pregnancy: Lawmakers are asking voters to limit the privacy rights of teenagers to allow a future Legislature to pass a law requiring parents be notified when their minor daughters seek abortions. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution has a specific privacy clause and the state Supreme Court has twice overturned laws requiring parental involvement in teen abortions because of that provision.
  • Amendment 2 - Citizen Initiatives: State lawmakers put this measure on the ballot to try to curb the number of citizen initiatives making it to the ballot. Groups gathering signatures for citizen initiative would have to complete their drives six months earlier under this ballot measure. The current deadline to have roughly half a million signatures verified is in late July or early August, depending on the date of the general election. Lawmakers want voters to set a deadline of Feb. 1.
  • Amendment 3 - Medical Malpractice: In the latest salvo in the medical malpractice war between doctors and trial lawyers, this physician-back proposal asks voters to cap the fees attorneys can earn in malpractice lawsuits. Lawyers could earn no more than 30 percent of the first $250,000 awarded to their clients and no more than 10 percent of any award over $250,000.
    Amendment 5-Minimum Wage: This amendment would create a state minimum wage of $6.15 an hour - a dollar more than the federal minimum wage - that increases with the cost of living. ACORN, a group that has pushed for higher wages in states and cities across the country, is a key sponsor in the petition drive and now the campaign. Business groups oppose the wage increase, saying it would drive up costs.
    n Amendment 6 - High Speed Train Repeal: Florida's high-speed train project, which voters approved four years ago, would be repealed. Gov. Jeb Bush was the primary force behind the repeal effort.
  • Amendment 7 - Medical Records: In the medical malpractice battle, attorneys pushed this amendment that would make doctors, hospitals and other health care providers open up records of ''adverse'' medical incidents to patients seeking information about quality of care. Identities of patients involved in the cases would remain confidential. Opponents say the amendment would provide a disincentive for doctors to put anything in writing for fear of more lawsuits.
  • Amendment 8 - Medical Ban: The amendment pushed by trial lawyers would yank state licenses from physicians who have three cases of medical malpractice on their records. Doctors say the so-called ''three strikes'' amendment shouldn't be so black-and-white. Malpractice cases can be technical, often hinging on what-ifs, and difficult questions about what is medically possible.

  • TALLAHASSEE - Jarrod Ashe has a personal stake in the minimum wage measure on the ballot. He makes his living as a day laborer, working on road crews, unloading trucks, painting, making deliveries.
    "We need to pass it so we can get a raise," the 31-year-old Ashe said as he waited to go out on a job recently at Action Labor Management. "The cost of living goes up every year."
    The federal minimum wage hasn't budged since 1997 when it was set at $5.15. A dozen states have higher minimum wages and Florida could join that list if voters approve a constitutional amendment on Nov. 2 to raise the hourly wage to $6.15.
    Supporters of the measure say prices will barely change if voters approve the increase. Opponents say prices will skyrocket and employers will be forced to reduce benefits and jobs.
    Voters will have to sort out the conflicting claims on that and other proposed constitutional amendments, including one that would open the door to slot machines in South Florida and another that would shorten the deadline for future citizen petition drives.
    The fight over the slots amendment is going to be one of the noisiest. The pari-mutuel industry has kicked in nearly $13.5 million this year - nearly $3 million from the Isle of Capri Casino in Biloxi, Miss., to persuade voters that the idea is a good gamble.
    The measure is on the state ballot because the Florida Constitution as currently written bans gambling. The proposed change would let people in Broward and Miami-Dade counties vote in a future election to decide whether to allow slot machines at seven horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons.
    The amendment would require that all tax revenue earned on the South Florida slots be shared by schools across the state. Supporters say at least $438 million could be generated for education in the first year. Opponents say the social costs of gambling outweigh any financial benefits and there's no guarantee the money would be used to enhance public schools. Both the minimum wage amendment and the slots amendment reached the ballot by petition drive. A third amendment that voters will face on Election Day would change the rules for citizen initiatives to bring the deadlines up about six months.
    That constitutional change was proposed by state lawmakers and is supported by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include Common Cause Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Lung Association.
    A lawsuit filed a week before Election Day challenges the accuracy of the ballot summary of the deadline measure.
    The issue was raised by a grassroots group called Hometown Democracy that wants to get a proposal on the 2006 ballot that would give local voters the right to veto developments.
    The lawsuit doesn't have to be settled before the election. In 2000, the state Supreme Court erased a constitutional provision dealing with the death penalty that voters had approved nearly two years earlier. The high court agreed with several religious groups that the ballot language state lawmakers put before voters was misleading and deceptive.
    Proponents of the minimum wage measure won't get as many ads on TV as the gambling measure. They've raised just $1.1 million, with nearly half of it coming from the National Education Association and ACORN, an organization that has pushed for higher wages across the country.
    Some political experts say the minimum wage measure could affect the race for the White House.
    Ballot issues tend to increase turnout in general, but it's not clear whether Democrats or Republicans will benefit more, said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor who studies citizen initiatives nationwide.
    Rick Fogleson, who teaches political science at Rollins College in Winter Park, said Democrat John Kerry could get more of a boost than President Bush because more of his base will be motivated to vote.
    Some 850,000 of Florida's lowest paid workers would get a pay raise under the wage proposal, which would create a state minimum wage of $6.15 - a buck higher than the federal minimum wage - and link it to inflation.
    Supporters say the increase is badly over due for thousands of workers who have gone without a raise for seven years.
    A full-time worker who makes minimum wage now gets a weekly paycheck of $206 and earns $10,712 a year. For a single parent with one child that's nearly $1,800 below the official poverty level.
    The minimum wage increase would boost that annual income by about $500 or $600 after things such as food stamp eligibility and earned income tax credits are factored in.
    If approved, the proposal would directly impact 300,000 people who work for less than $6.15 an hour. Supporters say another half a million workers who make less than $7.50 will probably also see their pay go up.
    "That's going to help them pay off debts," said Robert Pollin, a University of Massachusetts at Amherst economist who supports the amendment. "That's going to mean they could maybe take a vacation, that's going to help, maybe, pay for a car."
    Opposition is led by the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Restaurant Association. They say the proposal is an arbitrary manipulation of wages that would be much better handled by market forces. They warn the increase will force employers to cut jobs and raise prices - and will end up hurting the very people it's designed to help.
    "The money has to come from some place," said Rick McAllister, head of the retailers group. "Amendment 5 must be defeated for the workers of Florida."
    Opponents are also worried about their own profits, said Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant Association. She argued that "automatic and artificial increases" in the minimum wage will slow growth in Florida's economy.
    Pollin said the dire predictions of opponents simply aren't valid. He has estimated the amendment would cost Florida's businesses about $440 million in additional wages. That's a lot of money - but it's just a tiny fraction of the $930 billion in sales that those businesses ring up every year.
    "The average business in the state of Florida will experience a cost increase of 1 twenty-fifth of 1 percent of its total sales," Pollin said.
    A $20 sweatshirt will cost $20.01 if the cost of the higher minimum wage is fully factored in, he said. A $20 restaurant check will climb to $20.14.
    At Action Labor, the temporary work company in Tallahassee, regional manager Chris Willis supports the increase. Willis said he's seen two increases in the minimum wage in the 16 years he's worked for Action Labor, which has several offices throughout Florida. He said he didn't seen any reduction in employment.
    "It's a moral issue," he said. "The lower-income worker needs the help."
    On the Net: Proposed amendments: http://election.dos.state.fl.us/initiatives/initiativelistBallot.asp

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