Democratic House members joined citizen initiative proponents in the Capitol Tuesday to denounce proposed legislation making it harder for the public to amend the state’s constitution.
A proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 7093/SJR 7062) would require citizen initiative backers gather a minimum of signatures from across the state’s congressional districts rather than in only half. Another effort (HB 7037/SB 1794) includes provisions shortening how long petition signatures would remain valid and raising the threshold for petitions to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review.
Opponents say the legislation makes it harder for grassroots organizations to raise funds and to staff a statewide operation. Clearing judicial review is a key funding hurdle for citizen initiative backers. Getting ballot language approved through that process, the strategy goes, gives donors confidence to invest in the initiative.
“The anti-citizen initiative bills before us in this Session in the Florida Legislature only serve one purpose, and that is to make it more difficult for citizens and grassroots organizations to access the ballot. That’s it,” said Florida Conservation Voters’ (FCV) deputy director Jonathan Webber.
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat, brought lawmakers together to advocate for the initiative process as-is. She touted FCV’s 2014 Water and Land Conservation amendment and last year’s voting rights restoration amendment.
“What’s interesting to me is that we always talk about how much we trust the voters,” she said. “We seem to trust the voters when they elect us, but they seem to not trust the voters when they put forth these petitions.”
Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said the proposals would create “an environment where only billionaires through shady special interest organization entities controlled by wealthy corporations” have a say in the process.
The House’s version of the constitutional amendment for a district-to-district threshold is slated for a floor vote Tuesday. On Monday, the Senate version was postponed in the last Senate Rules Committee meeting of the Session.
Even if the amendment had Republicans’ complete backing, Senate Democratic leaders believe they have the votes to keep proponents from getting the 60% majority amendments need to pass the Senate chamber.
The signature expiration and review provision is slated for a House vote on Thursday while the Senate version could pass soon.