A circuit judge on Wednesday knocked a greyhound-racing ban off the November ballot, calling the proposed constitutional amendment misleading and “outright trickeration.”
“Contrary to the words presented for consideration by the voters, the amendment would not end dog racing, nor would it eliminate wagering on dog racing,” Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers wrote in her order.
“In short, proposed Amendment 13 is misleading and inaccurate and incomplete, while adding up to a ‘hide the ball,’ ‘fly a false flag’ and outright ‘trickeration,’ ” she wrote.
Supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment quickly said they will appeal the ruling.
The amendment was one of eight ballot measures placed on the Nov. 6 general-election ballot by the state Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the unique authority to present proposed constitutional changes directly to voters.
The proposal sought to ban commercial greyhound racing in the state after Dec. 31, 2020. It was sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, a member of the constitutional panel.
But Gievers said the ballot title and summary for the amendment were “clearly and conclusively defective.”
Gievers said the ballot information failed to inform voters that the actual amendment language would establish the “humane treatment of animals” as a “fundamental value” in the Constitution. She also said the language failed to describe the amendment’s impact on existing constitutional provisions that allowed slot machines at dog tracks in Broward and Miami-Dade counties contingent on live racing at the facilities.
“If the CRC (Constitution Revision Commission) wanted Florida voters to be able to rethink the relationship between live animal racing and the operation of slot machines, or to be able to adopt as a constitutional fundamental value the humane treatment of animals, the CRC could have included the appropriate language in the ballot and summary,” the judge wrote.
Gievers’ order also supported an argument raised by the Florida Greyhound Association, a group that represents dog owners, breeders and trainers, that the amendment would not actually ban dog-race wagering since it would allow betting at Florida tracks on races broadcast from outside the state.
Supporters of Amendment 13 quickly organized a conference call with reporters, saying they intend to appeal Gievers' ruling and that they might try to get an expedited hearing from the Florida Supreme Court.
"We want the people to finally make a judgment on this cruel activity, and that’s why we are confident that this misguided judgment will not stand," Christine Dorchak, president and general counsel of Grey2K USA, said.
Dorchak called the judge's ruling "defective."
Gievers' finding that the amendment does not inform voters that dog racing would continue outside of Florida is "completely nonsensical," Dorchak said.
"Clearly voters of Florida can only vote on what happens in their own state," she said.
She also rejected the judge's contention that the ballot title and summary "hides the ball" regarding the full language of the proposal.
Supporters of the amendment also pointed out that Gievers' rulings in other high-profile cases have frequently been overturned.
"I don't think anyone's here to throw stones, but this is really a nearly 30-page diatribe. It’s not the kind of ruling we would expect to see from a court in Florida," Dorchak said.
Dorchak also said the language put on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission "was written to be clear and neutral."
"The judge is saying that’s not good enough, we had to add more language that I think probably would confuse voters," she said.
Wednesday's legal blow came on the heels of an announcement last week that the Doris Day Animal League was donating $1.5 million to the campaign to end dog racing in Florida.
"We’re confident we will succeed in November and get this passed for the dogs," said Kate MacFall, co-chairwoman of the Committee to Protect Dogs, a group backing Amendment 13.
The proposed dog-racing ban was one of 13 state constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot. Eight of the amendments were advanced by the Constitution Revision Commission, with four of those measures, including the racing ban, being contested in court.
To be enacted, each amendment must win support from at least 60 percent of the voters.