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An oink or two clutter the ballot

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 28, 2002

At the risk of offending a pregnant pig or two, I plan to vote against Amendment 10 on Nov. 5.

The way I see it, Florida has done enough to make itself a laughingstock without writing pregnant pigs into the state Constitution.

We might want to figure out a way to actually count the votes before we branch out to protect farm animals.

It is not that I am unsympathetic to pigs, but the idea of extending constitutional rights to animals without first giving them to cats really does offend me.

Now, I'm not actually suggesting that constitutional rights be extended to cats. Lewis and Clark, our Siamese "gang of two," already rule our house without such rights.

I can only imagine what would happen if they had rights: no more pet taxis, no trips to the vet and treats every hour on the hour.

Tell average voters that they'll be asked to decide the future of pregnant pigs while voting for governor, attorney general and a list of constitutional amendments and they will laugh. But it's true.

A group called Floridians for Humane Farms gathered more than 500,000 signatures from registered voters who agreed that protecting pregnant pigs was important enough to put in the state Constitution.

I politely declined to sign one of these petitions last spring but got close enough to the effort to say it was a bit misleading. The couple seeking signatures at a Tallahassee street festival asked me to sign a petition favoring the humane treatment of animals.

Who could be opposed to that? But, ever cautious about signing my name to these things, I asked if the animals they wanted to protect happened to be pregnant pigs.

Yes, they said. Not interested, I said.

If this amendment passes, we could insert this measure right beside the section that governs lawmakers, since they are the ones with their noses in lobbyists' troughs most of the time.

Of course, I would never abuse any pig, let alone a pregnant one. I would, however, eat one properly prepared.

The proposed amendment to the state Constitution would prohibit Floridians from confining pregnant pigs in anything other than a cage or crate that allows them to turn around freely. Violating the amendment would be a crime punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and as much as a year in jail.

Just what we need need -- another crime to fill jails. Still, it's hard to imagine a prosecutor standing up in court with a straight face and displaying a pregnant pig and a cage.

There is one constitutional amendment on the ballot I hope does pass. Amendment 4 would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature before it could amend the state's public records and meetings laws.

This amendment has been buried by the fight about amendments that would reduce classroom size and expand prekindergarten classes.

Yet this one is important. More than 80 percent of the voters approved the last constitutional amendment affecting public records and open meetings. But legislators tend to ignore these things and blindly vote for each exemption that comes along.

It's rarely in the public interest to deny access to the records of government. Anything that might slow down the exemption train is worth doing.

As for the other amendments, I suspect many voters will ignore them. They are long and involved, the print is small and it's hard to tell what the bureaucrats were trying to do when they pushed them to the ballot.

One amendment, for example, allows voters in Miami-Dade County to change their home rule charter after a referendum. Considering the primary election mess down there, you have to wonder how that will go over with the rest of Florida.

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