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Anne Rawley: Legislators are trying to quash the will of the people. Don’t let them

This is exactly what we don’t need — more government by megacorporations and billionaires.

One thing that the conservative majority in the Florida Legislature can’t stand is when the state’s citizens get tired of waiting for those lawmakers to fix problems, and we join together to improve Florida and get the job done.

We do this via a time-honored, citizens’ petition process to place amendments to the Florida Constitution on the ballot, and then we vote on them.

This is totally within our fundamental rights, established in Florida’s constitution, and it is precisely that basic right that those politicians are now trying to take away from us.

Florida already has one of the most difficult and restrictive ballot initiative processes in the country. Senate Bill 1794 (and its companion bill HB 7037) would make the ability of Florida citizens to unite together to propose changes to our constitution significantly harder and much more expensive.

If the bill passes, only those with large amounts of money will likely be able to successfully place proposed changes to our state constitution on the ballot. This is exactly what we don’t need — more government by megacorporations and billionaires.

This attempt to derail initiatives by ordinary citizens comes in the wake of Amendment 4, which was approved by 65% of Florida voters in November 2018. That amendment returns the right to vote to as many as 1.4 million fellow Floridians.

It gave more people the right to vote than any piece of lawmaking anywhere in the U.S. in the past 50 years.

But the conservative majority in the Legislature didn’t like Amendment 4 and immediately set about trying to undermine it through specious legislation. That skulduggery has been challenged in the courts and, so far, judges have agreed that the legislation is unconstitutional, although the final outcome is still uncertain.

However it turns out, the politicians don’t want to go through this again. So they have decided to attack the petition process itself so that, in the future, they don’t have to deal with this pesky problem — the will of the people.

Senate Bill 1794 would increase the number of confirmed signatures that petition gatherers must present before triggering Supreme Court review from 10% of the number of Floridians who voted in the last general election to 25% (an increase of other 100,000 petitions).

It would also require that 25% be achieved in one-half of the state’s 27 congressional districts, instead of one-fourth of the districts as stated in the current law (thus doubling the number of congressional districts needed).

In addition, the proposed law would allow the Florida government to charge those mounting a petition drive significantly more than is currently collected for the supposed cost of verifying signatures on those positions — even though facilitating Floridians’ participation in direct democracy is already part of its job.

Given the bill’s changes, it could cost anyone advancing a petition project as much as $3 million more just in signature verification alone.

Why do this, especially when the Florida Legislature had already added new, even harsher restrictions just last year? No other answer exists but that the politicians in power have decided to suppress the public will and retaliate against Florida’s voters.

Florida lawmakers trying to ignore, evade or act in direct contradiction to the will of the voters is not new. This is the same conservative power bloc that said the public didn’t know what it was doing in 2016 when 71% of voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the use of medical marijuana.

That’s why it has taken years of constant public pressure to implement that amendment, despite the need that thousands of Floridians have for relief, including people with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma and military veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder. Even now some members of the Legislature are trying to put a cap on the strength of marijuana prescribed to some qualified patients, taking the decision out of the hands of doctors.

In 2014, 75% of voters backed the Water and Land Conservation Initiative, allocating state funds to purchase and protect natural treasures that were deemed environmentally vulnerable. But the majority in the Legislature didn’t like that either. In subsequent years, the political machine in Tallahassee has repeatedly used that money for purposes that had nothing to do with acquiring natural sources.

In 2018, a Circuit Court judge found that the state had violated the terms of the new law.

All the successful petition campaigns mentioned above were necessary because lawmakers were out of touch with the majority of Floridians — and they still are.

I am a retired U.S. Navy nurse, who served in war zones in Vietnam and the Middle East, and now live in St. Petersburg. I, and the brave men and women I served with, did not do so in order to see politicians usurp the rights of the electorate and silence the voices of their own constituents while stacking the deck in favor of the richest corporate-backed players.

That is what SB 1794 — and its companion House Bill 7037 — will do.

These harmful bills are sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson (SB 1794) and Rep James Grant (HB 7037), and there are three critical lawmakers that will decide if they pass or fail: Senate President Bill Galvano; Speaker José Oliva; and Gov. Ron DeSantis. Contact them today and let them know you oppose these bills.

Tell them that Floridians will not give up their right to band together to fix our problems and shape the future of our communities when our out-of-touch lawmakers fail us.

___

Retired Navy captain Anne Rawley of St. Petersburg served as a nurse in combat zones, both in Vietnam and the Middle East.

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