Senators gave preliminary approval to a controversial proposal Democrats and citizen initiative proponents say will make it excessively difficult to change the state Constitution.
Sen. Travis Hutson‘s bill (SB 1794) would raise the threshold for initiatives to trigger judicial review and prevent petition signatures from rolling over to the next ballot. The Republican says his legislation will prevent the Florida Supreme Court from wasting its time on proposed amendments that never meet the threshold to head to the ballot.
Miami Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, who fought the bill with amendments Friday and through the committee process, argued the two proposed amendments that underwent a review last election but didn’t meet the ultimate signature threshold to make the ballot did not overburden the court.
“I do not want to be wasting the Supreme Court’s time when there’s many things that they have to do throughout the day as a function of their job, and I believe it’s enough to do that,” Hutson contended.
Hutson added he did not ask the court how much a review costs.
The trigger for judicial review would jump to 25% from 10% of total signatures required to make the ballot. Hutson pushed for a 33% threshold, but amended that down to 25% Friday. Those signatures must come from one half, instead of one quarter, of the state’s congressional districts.
Critics contend that by pushing judicial review — the process by which Justices determine whether ballot language is constitutiona — further down in the process, groups seeking a ballot initiative would experience greater challenges getting funding to promote their efforts. Many deep-pocketed donors hold off on donating to the cause until the Supreme Court has signed off because it protects their investment.
While the Senate proposal is already a hurdle for citizen initiative supporters, it’s less of one than what the House is proposing. There, the entire process would require signatures from all 27 Florida Congressional Districts, far more than the half the Senate contemplates.
The Senate amendment also asks each county’s supervisor of elections to determine their verification fee based on the actual costs of verifying petition signatures. Previously, the Secretary of State would have set the fee, but the expenses vary county by county. Those fees would go up, adding to the process’ expense.
Critics such as Rodríguez and Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson say the measures are not solving any existing problem and they will shut off the ballot amendment process by making it more difficult for citizens’ initiatives to gain approval.
The bill’s other headlining provision would let petition signatures expire if the initiative doesn’t get enough support within one two-year cycle.
Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant is sponsoring the House companion measure (HB 7037). That proposal, requiring a 50% threshold across all districts is slated for a vote but was postponed Friday morning.