Florida appeals ruling on abortion vote ‘financial impact statement’ – Sun Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE — The state has appealed a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling requiring changes to a “financial impact statement” that will appear on the November ballot along with a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at ensuring the right to abortion.

After announcing his decision at a hearing last week, Circuit Judge John Cooper issued a written ruling Monday that outdated information in the financial impact statement “makes it inaccurate, ambiguous, misleading, unclear and confusing.

Hours later, the state filed a notice that was a first step in appealing Cooper’s decision to the 1st District Court of Appeal. As is often the case, the opinion does not detail the arguments the state will present to the appeals court in Tallahassee.

Under court rules, the state’s filing of the notice automatically triggered a stay of Cooper’s ruling. But Cooper held a hearing Tuesday afternoon and canceled his stay. While it’s unclear how the 1st District Court of Appeal will proceed, Cooper’s decision to vacate the stay could mean the financial impact statement would have to be restated within 15 days.

“This is a case that should pave the way for the people of the State of Florida to decide this issue. … What’s not acceptable is for them to vote based on inaccurate and misleading information that was fed to them,” Cooper said. “It’s not acceptable.”

The proposed constitutional amendment, which will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 4, says, in part, that no “law shall prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion before viability or when it is necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider. It drew opposition from Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state Republican leaders.

Floridians Protecting Freedom, a political committee leading the effort to pass the amendment, filed a lawsuit over the financial impact statement in April after the state Supreme Court issued two major rulings on abortion. One of the decisions paved the way for the vote on the draft constitutional amendment.

The other ruling rejected a challenge to a 15-week abortion limit passed by lawmakers in 2022. That ruling also allowed a six-week abortion limit to go into effect. DeSantis and the Legislature approved the six-week limit in 2023.

Financial impact statements appear with ballot initiatives to provide an estimate of the measures’ effects on government revenue and the state budget. A state committee issued a financial impact statement for the abortion measure ahead of the Supreme Court’s April 1 decisions.

This statement included cautions regarding litigation surrounding the nation’s abortion laws and concluded: “Given that there are several possible outcomes related to this litigation that differ significantly in their effects, the impact of the proposed amendment on local and state government revenues and costs, if any, cannot be determined. to be determined.”

The lawsuit alleged that in light of the Supreme Court’s rulings, the financial impact study needed to be updated. But attorneys for the state fought the lawsuit, arguing in part that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over financial impact statements.

In a brief filed last month, the state argued that only the Florida Supreme Court could legally review the financial impact statement. Additionally, the Supreme Court decided in 2019 not to issue so-called “advisory” opinions on financial impact statements.

But in his ruling Monday, Cooper rejected those arguments and said the current statement violates the Florida Constitution and state law “because it presents grossly outdated information about the legality of abortion under laws and disputes unrelated to Amendment 4.” Cooper demanded that the statement be reworded within 15 days.

Floridians Protecting Liberty filed an emergency motion Monday night to overturn the automatic stay, sparking state opposition. That led to the hearing Tuesday afternoon and Cooper’s decision to cancel the stay.

Margaret Good, attorney for Floridians Protecting Freedom, pointed to the Florida Secretary of State’s website, which includes the financial impact statement that Cooper found misleading. Leaving “this inaccurate and misleading information for voters” while the appeal moves forward causes “irreparable harm,” said Good, a former Democratic state representative.

“Misinformation exists, and it needs to be corrected now to ensure voters get accurate and understandable information” when researching the ballot proposition, Good added.

But Daniel Bell, an attorney in Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office, urged the judge to stay his ruling while the appeal plays out, noting that the 1st District Court of Appeal “routinely overturns” orders lifting automatic stays.

Cooper asked Bell if a stay would prevent the state panel “from rewording the disclosure statement to make it accurate.”

“Of course our position is that that statement is accurate,” Bell said, drawing the judge’s ire.

Cooper noted that the state’s attorneys “took no position” on the accuracy of the statement during a hearing last week, when he specifically asked about the issue.

“I don’t think it can be argued that now, after the fact, when the final judgment has been made, your client is somehow taking a position that is correct when it clearly is not. not. This is not accurate because it assesses the financial impact of litigation that does not exist. It’s assessing the financial impact of a law that doesn’t exist,” Cooper said.