We’ve written plenty about state constitutional amendments and how misleading they are, with disparate issues bundled into a single amendment. Voters, surprisingly, passed all of them in November — except the one that would have increased homestead exemptions and put money in their pockets. Go figure.
Now we’re seeing the flip side of the coin. It’s not about passage, it’s now about implementation and interpretation.
Because the amendment descriptions were so vague, interpreting some of them is going to become a headache for Florida.
Amendment 6 is causing problems. It included Marsy’s Law, requiring law enforcement to keep families of crime victims apprised of what’s going on during prosecution. It also sets up a series of 11 victim’s rights clauses — predominately to protect victims and their families from harassment or harm. And the devil is in the details ... or lack of them.
Amendment 6 also expanded judges’ mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75. A third part requires judges to interpret statutes rather than referring them to governmental agencies.
But, for now it’s Marsy’s Law that causing the stir. And it’s pitting newspapers and other news providers against law enforcement.
The Tampa Bay Times published an editorial last week titled “Victims’ rights should not trump open government.” It’s the first, but won’t be the last to take that position.
It contends that a sentence in the amendment was not reflected in the ballot summary. These 35 words have the potential to cause real rifts in the state: ” ... the right to prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim, the victim’s family or which would disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim.”
Tampa police have interpreted that to mean that they can withhold any and all information on crime victims.
The Times argues that, for instance, a rash of home burglaries or auto thefts in a neighborhood would not be made public because of Marsy’s Law. Neighbors would not know of the threat. Or a series of robberies occur in a particular shopping district, but without reporting them, the public won’t know to be careful or avoid the hot spot.
It argues that newspapers already protect the identities of certain crimes, including sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking and minors in most cases.
It goes so far as to write, “The Tampa Police Department is no more accountable than the secret police in a dictatorship under its extreme interpretation of the amendment.”
And that’s our problem with the amendment in a nutshell. Here at the Daily Commercial we value our long relationships with the municipal police departments and the Sheriff’s Office. We work together, and it works well.
But under Marsy’s Laws each one could interpret the law differently, because it is so vacuous. And that’s going to be the case — and a problem — all over the state.