It’s often said that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior — that has clearly been the case for the implementation of Florida’s constitutional amendments.
For decades, as Republicans have controlled the legislature, governor’s mansion and most cabinet offices, Floridians have come together through the citizen’s initiative to make their voices heard. They’ve successfully passed changes to improve education, conserve natural lands and waterways, allow patients to access medical marijuana, restore former felons’ voting rights and more.
These initiatives are clear, honest attempts to help people and improve the Sunshine State — but despite good intentions, the ultimate outcomes have been lackluster, ineffective and, in some cases, detrimental to the very causes they were supporting.
Legislators blatantly defied the 2014 conservation amendment, which passed with 75% of the vote in favor of specific public spending on environmental conservation.
After voters approved a 2016 amendment legalizing medical marijuana, the legislature passed a bill implementing the initiative in a restrictive way. The ‘vertical integration’ limited the number of companies that could participate in the new industry, leading to product shortages, higher prices, and placed additional hurdles that prevented patient access to medicine.
And of course, in 2018, Floridians overwhelmingly voted to restore former felons’ voting rights. Then, lawmakers passed a bill requiring the payment of all fines, court fees, and other costs outside of restitution and sentencing before voting rights could be regained, even though no system exists to track payments. Today, Florida continues to lead the nation in people unable to vote due to a felony conviction — nearly 900,000 Floridians fall into this category.
Even after passing with over 60% support, the will of the voters has been consistently twisted, silenced, and bastardized by Florida’s Republican-led leaders — an unaccountable majority more concerned with maintaining power than listening to the voters who elected them.
This year, I fear the same fate for Amendment 2, an effort to gradually raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. An issue that I support and is bound to pass because far too many Floridians are personally impacted by it every single day. Some of my own life experiences, including working a minimum wage job at Cluck U in high school in Miami and in college at Carlton Cards in Gainesville have imprinted on me firsthand that our minimum wage needs to change. Minimum wage doesn’t allow you to make ends meet, let alone live in equity. I’m a firm believer in fair wages — no one should be working 40 or 50 hours a week and struggle to put food on the table for their family.
But given what we’ve seen from the Florida legislature, I fear this will be another imperiled approach to impactful change that is desperately needed for working Floridians. Not because a raise to $10 an hour with a $1 increase over the next five years is too much, but because once Republican legislators decide on the need to pass an implementing bill, the distortion they decide to establish will be affixed in our constitution, and more difficult to change in the future.
It’s a sad day for democracy when we must come to terms with the fact that we cannot trust our leaders to listen to our voices. And they’ve proven they don’t even want to hear our ideas, passing legislation last session which makes it more difficult to get constitutional amendments on the ballot. We deserve leaders who will prioritize our public schools, protect our environment, push for criminal justice reforms, and fight to raise Florida’s minimum wage. But above all, we deserve leaders who will listen to the people they represent.
Vote. Vote for the amendments that you believe in — vote for the leaders that will enact them as intended.
Nikki Fried, a Democrat, is an independently elected member of the Florida Cabinet and Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.