Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.
This is the seventh in a series of articles that will appear in The Madison Enterprise-Recorder. Each article will examine one of the 13 proposed constitutional amendments that will be appearing on the Florida elections ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. This week's article takes a look at Amendment Seven.
The seventh amendment Florida voters will decide upon in November is dubbed the First Responders and Military Member Survivor Benefits, Supermajority Board Votes for College Fees, and State College System Amendment. As its lengthy title suggests; the amendment, if it passes, would make three changes to the Florida Constitution.
First of all, the amendment would require employers to provide death benefits, as the state legislature defines, to the surviving spouses of first responders who are killed while engaged in official duties. It would also require the state to provide death benefits, as the state legislature defines, to the surviving spouses of active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are accidentally or unlawfully and intentionally killed. In addition, the amendment requires the state to waive certain educational expenses, as defined in statute, for the surviving spouse or children of the deceased first responder or military member in order to obtain a career certificate, an undergraduate education or a post-graduate education. For the purposes of this amendment, first responders are defined as firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), law enforcement officers, correctional officers, correctional probation officers and members of the Florida National Guard. Currently, death benefits are provided by state statute for law enforcement, correctional and correctional probation officers, firefighters and members of the Florida National Guard. The current statutes require employers of first responders to pay death benefits to survivors. Death benefits range from $50,000 to $150,000; depending on the circumstances of death.
The remaining two aspects of Amendment Seven deals with the state's colleges and universities. Amendment Seven would require a nine-member vote of a university's 13-member board of trustees and a 12-member vote of the 17-member state board of governors in order to increase college fees. Currently, it only requires a simple majority vote in order to increase fees.
If passed, the amendment would also add the structure of the state college system to the state constitution. It would not change the current structure. The system that would be added to the state constitution requires:
there be a single state college system comprised of all public community and state colleges
a local board of trustees shall govern each institution
members of a board of trustees must be a resident of the college's service delivery area
members of a board of trustees are appointed by the governor, subject to confirmation by the state Senate, to four-year terms
the state board of education shall supervise the state college system
It should be noted that North Florida Community College (NFCC) currently has a nine-member board of trustees, appointed by the governor. There are three members from Madison County, two from Suwannee County and one each from Taylor, Lafayette, Jefferson and Hamilton Counties.
According to NFCC President John Grosskopf, the effect on NFCC would be minimal if the amendment passes. This is because NFCC already enjoys a great deal of local control. "[One of] our strengths has always been in our local control. I don't see this [amendment] changing any of that," said Grosskopf.
To date, there are no organized groups either supporting or opposing the passing of Amendment Seven.
In order to become law, this proposed amendment will have to pass with at least 60 percent of the vote in the November election. As with any proposed legislation, one should carefully weigh both sides of the argument and then make the wisest choice.