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Chamber hosts virtual Ballot Briefing Power Hour

By CHAMBER OF COMMERCE - | Oct 8, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Michael Nachef

As an expert on the Florida constitution and amendment process, Michael Nachef, system director of government relations for Lee Health, advised members of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce to strive to keep the Florida constitution “clean” when voting in November. He spoke on ballot amendments during a virtual meeting hosted by the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee on Oct. 2.

“The Florida constitution should be amended as little as possible,” Nachef said. “As a general rule, I would say vote ‘no’ on ballot initiatives, because the constitution should remain a clean foundational document — unless you feel strongly about any of these.”

After introductions by chamber President John Lai and Government Affairs Committee Chair Robert Monk, Nachef provided an overview of Lee Health’s current COVID-19 status. He reported that the hospitals are closing some of the emergency skilled nursing stepdown units designed for COVID after care, but stand ready for any potential surges.

He then addressed the six state constitutional amendments proposed on the 2020 ballot. He pointed out that the Florida Chamber of Commerce either opposed or took no position on all of the amendments.

The first amendment would slightly change the standing language of the constitution to clarify that only U.S. citizens may vote in Florida elections, a change Nachef deemed possibly unnecessary.

Number two would raise Florida’s minimum wage to $10 per hour starting Sept. 30, then add $1 each year until Sep. 30, 2026, with a $15 per hour cap. He pointed out that Florida would be the first state to codify minimum wage in the constitution, but with attorney John Morgan sponsoring it, “you can bet it will be a tough fight.”

Nachef called the third amendment “the most fascinating one.” It would allow all voters to vote in primary elections for the state legislature, governor and cabinet, regardless of party affiliation. The implications are complex, he said, and many organizations oppose how it would affect party politics, including the parties themselves, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters.

Amendment 4 would require voter approval of all revisions to the constitution in two separate elections. Currently, a 60 percent voter approval threshold is required to get an amendment on the ballot. Nachef instead recommended raising the threshold rather than putting an amendment to a vote on two subsequent ballots.

The final two amendments come from the Florida Legislature to change provisions already in the constitution. Number five would extend the period of time, from two to three years, during which homestead property benefits could be transferred from one homestead to a new one. Six relates to transferring homestead benefits of certain deceased veterans to their spouses. Both amendments would take effect on Jan. 1.

As a former Florida legislative assistant and current registered lobbyist, Nachef works closely with elected officials and their staff at the local, state and federal levels. His work is focused on policy and funding issues that affect healthcare delivery and cost for Southwest Florida residents. He works with hospital, community, statewide and national leaders to achieve positive outcomes for Lee Health.

“He’s someone whom I regard as one of the smartest persons I’ve ever met,” Lai said.

In closing, he asked the lobbyist for a snapshot of how the upcoming legislative session will look.

Nachef responded that although the 2021 session will run on the normal March to May timeline, it will continue to be driven by the financial impact of COVID and whatever happens in November.

“Not just who gets elected, but it will speak to mandate what’s important to voters,” he said.

“Be ready,” Nachef cautioned. “(You’ll need) tough skin this year.”