Criticism mounts as citizen ballot initiative rollbacks stumble through Legislature
Jonathan Webber, deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters, advocates against bills limiting citizen initiatives.

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Critics see the legislation as an attempt to squash the process.

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.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


4 comments

  • Sterling Balz

    March 3, 2020 at 8:23 pm

    The initiative process is already run by billionaires and out-of-state interests to drive Florida into the dysfunctional direct democracy of California. The current process is out of control, direct democracy is very, very flawed. There is no accountability in direct democracy. It should be a last resort, not a first response. J. Grant for President! As long he supports HB 843!!

  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    March 4, 2020 at 7:44 am

    Democrats use the old tired talking points but the reality is that the Constitution isn’t where pregnant pigs belong. That was the beginning of the efforts that resulted in too many initiatives funded by devious tactics. Time to make the process right.

  • "Bobby" Boucher, Jr.

    March 4, 2020 at 9:46 am

    This is just another example of how the Legislature and Jamie Grant think they are smarter than the public and play by a different set of rules.

    Every proposed amendment to come out of the Legislature should have to follow the same rules – term limits for school boards – get the signatures.

    Because if we are honest, we all know the only politics being played here is by Tallahassee special interests that are pulling the strings of waterboy Grant so that they will be the only ones left to rule, and they will finally give him his stupid Auburn Tiger license plate.

  • John

    March 4, 2020 at 10:57 am

    The state’s Constitution IS NOT the place to be having these food fights among special interest groups. There is no deliberation, merely slick and sometimes deceptive advertising(Amendment 4 – includes fees and fines ordered by the court – until a different courts rules otherwise).

    Any new process should have a higher threshold and include an automatic 4 or 8 year sunset for all new amendments, unless renewed by the electorate.

    Better yet, switch it to a legislate by petition initiative – don’t allow the legislature to amend/touch the statutory language. Include the automatic 4 or 8 year sunset, unless renewed by the electorate.

Comments are closed.


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