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Amendments 7 and 8 Wins Spots on Fall Ballot

Constitutional changes to class size restrictions and political boundaries passed their final hurdle Wednesday as they were given numbers for the Nov. 2 ballot.

On Wednesday, state election officials added the two proposals to the slate of amendments to greet voters. A proposal to modify the way lawmakers redraw political boundaries became Amendment 7. A proposal to relax class size restrictions that were passed by voters in 2002 will become Amendment 8.

Amendment 7 is the Legislature’s response to a pair of amendments by FairDistrictsFlorida.org.

Lawmakers on the session’s final day voted to put the proposal on the ballot, asking voters to put certain requirements for redrawing districts in the constitution, regardless of what is required by two other amendments, 5 and 6, which were put on the ballot through the signature process.

Amendments 5 and 6 seek to prohibit lawmakers from drawing congressional or state legislative districts to favor or disfavor any party or candidate. Republican lawmakers chafed at the idea, calling the FairDistrictFlorida amendments unworkable and potentially damaging for black and Hispanic candidates who now benefit from minority access districts and districts that seem to unnaturally link other communities of interest.

Critics, however, say Amendment 7 is a thinly veiled attempt to maintain the politically motivated re-districting process that prompted FairDistricts and others to seek systemic change in the way boundaries are drawn.

“Amendments 5 and 6 need no clarification,” said former Common Cause director Ben Wilcox during a stormy April hearing. “To say so is disingenuous.”

Amendment 8 would allow school districts to calculate class size caps on a school-wide basis while maintaining the overall caps required under the previous constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2002. Individual classes could exceed the school-wide cap only if other classes contained fewer students than allowed.

Backers say the proposal would allow school administrators more flexibility in responding to the needs of particular schools without throwing out the protections envisioned by the original amendment.

Critics counter that voters were explicit in wanting smaller class sizes and relaxing the standards would inevitably lead to some classes having more students than specified in the original amendment.

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