The Legislative Session is more than half over, but lawmakers continue to toy with new ways to make citizens’ initiatives tougher.
A committee bill from the Senate Judiciary Committee (SPB 7062) proposes a citizens’ initiative to amend the Constitution to require petition circulators to reach signature thresholds of 8% of all votes cast in the prior presidential election in all 27 congressional districts. They currently must meet the 8% threshold statewide in and least half of Florida’s congressional districts.
The current rules allow petition gathers to focus petition drives in the state’s most populous areas such as Tampa Bay, Miami and Orlando, which could mean the petitions gathered wouldn’t be representative of the whole state.
The proposed change adds an additional burden to petition drives by mandating groups reach the 8% threshold in all Congressional districts, not just half.
In the wake of recent citizens’ initiatives for medical marijuana and reenfranchisement for reformed felons, lawmakers have struggled with implementing these directives that run counter to their legislative proclivities.
While requiring half allows petition circulators to concentrate efforts in population-dense, more liberal urban and suburban areas, some more rural and conservative districts could present daunting challenges.
Legislation has already been moving in the House and the Senate that would make it tougher for the kinds of citizens’ ballot initiatives that have become part of the Constitution in recent years.
On Tuesday, a bill is headed toward its final committee stop (Judiciary) before the House floor. The next day, the Senate version is headed to its final committee (Rules).
HB 7037, filed by Rep. Jamie Grant, firms up requirements for political committees pushing citizens’ initiatives.
Citizens’ groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, take issue with “making petition signatures expire much faster and requiring an enormous number of signatures to be collected even before a proposal can move past the first legal hurdles.” That first legal hurdle is judicial review of ballot language, which is currently triggered when gatherers reach 10% of their total threshold. Grant’s legislation would increase that to 50% in a quarter of the state’s Congressional districts.
The Senate bill (SB 1794, carried by Sen. Travis Hutson) is arguably more daunting: proposing 33% to trigger review, with signatures from 2/3 of Congressional districts.
Additionally, the Financial Impact Estimating Conference would no longer be charged with giving the impact on local and state economies of any ballot item. Thus, findings such as “legal pot good for state economy” would be outside of scope, removing a potential argument for a given future ballot initiative.
The Attorney General would be given new latitude to reject an initiative as “facially invalid under the U.S. Constitution.”
Petition circulators, meanwhile, could have their legitimacy challenged by anyone.