Florida’s Supreme Court. Sept. 8, 2023
The pending legal challenge to Florida’s 15-week abortion ban is hindering state officials’ ability to determine how a ballot initiative to protect abortion rights would affect the state economy, the group tasked with calculating those costs concluded Thursday morning.
All ballot initiatives in Florida must be accompanied by a 150-word summary describing any estimated increase or decrease in revenues and costs to the state if voters approve it.
However, the four people in charge of writing that estimate — sitting as the Financial Impact Estimating Conference — conceded that too many variables will be at play between now and November 2024, when Floridians Protecting Freedom’s initiative to protect abortion access would be on the ballot.
The members of the group making the decision are Amy Baker, coordinator for the Office of Economic and Demographic Research; Vince Aldridge, staff director for the House Ways and Means Committee; Azhar Khan, staff director of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee; and Brea Gelin, a chief analyst in the Executive Office of the Governor.
Although the group won’t make a formal decision until after their last of two more meetings on Nov. 16, all four agreed they’d be unable to inform voters definitively about what the amendment would mean monetarily in the absence of a pending ruling by the Florida Supreme Court on the state’s existing 15-week abortion ban.
“The 15-week [ban] might be current law today, but we don’t know where the law would be at the time the voters vote on this,” Aldridge said during the meeting.
“So, absence of clarity from the Supreme Court, I don’t know how you establish what the baseline is. I don’t think you can,” he continued.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought. … Trying to predict what a court is going to rule and the precise nature of that ruling, I don’t think we can do that,” he said.
Following oral arguments in early September, the Florida Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will conserve its own 1989 holding that the right to privacy under the Florida Constitution includes abortion. If the court upholds the 15-week ban, a six-week ban the Legislature passed earlier this year would go into effect.
Besides the 150-word financial impact summary, the group also must publish a 500-word explanation of their decision. During two planned future workshops, they plan to focus on how the longer explanation could inform voters about the potential direct and indirect costs of the abortion-rights proposal.
“In this case, as long as we’re all comfortable with this general direction, it wouldn’t have discrete numbers on it,” Baker said. “It would just be pointing people to things they could go look at or research further.”
The financial impact statement is only one of the requirements before the amendment can go on the ballot. The Supreme Court also has to determine whether a separate summary of what the amendment would do in any way misleads voters; if the justices conclude that summary is misleading or unclear, they can keep the amendment off the ballot.
The ballot summary reads: “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider. This amendment does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion. ”
Before the group members started their discussion, the sponsors of the abortion-rights ballot and those against it had an opportunity to present their cases.
Kara Gross, legislative director for the ACLU of Florida, argued approval of the proposal would benefit the state by allowing women to finish school and become financially independent. As of last week, the Florida Division of Elections had validated 402,082 signatures of the 891,523 the proposal needs to be on next year’s ballot.
“When women and all people that can become pregnant are able to make their own decisions based on their own individualized circumstances … state and local economies thrive,” Gross said.
“These impacts are seen in many ways, including but not limited to increased education and workforce participation, leading to higher salaries and more disposable incomes, increases in revenue and sales tax, property tax, and other higher earnings disposable income” she said.
Katie Daniel, a state policy director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America promised to provide a report that she said would document financial harm to the state should voters approve the proposal.
“The use of undefined terms like viability and provider in the amendment makes this an unrestricted late-term abortion amendment. Therefore, the insurance and health care costs of permitting abortion throughout pregnancy without limits must be considered,” Daniel said.
Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody is also against the initiative’s use of the term “viability.” Last week, she told the Florida Supreme Court she plans to file arguments that the language is ambiguous. Moody has tried to block initiatives before — most recently, she asked the court to throw out a citizens’ initiative to legalize recreational marijuana.
The financial estimating group has to send their conclusions to Moody and Florida State Secretary Cord Byrd.
In Missouri, that state’s attorney general tried to obstruct the process by asking the state auditor to inflate the cost of an abortion ballot initiative during a process similar to Florida’s, according to reporting from Florida Phoenix’s sister publication Missouri Independent.
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