An effort to make it more difficult to amend the Florida Constitution is on its way through the Legislature again after passing its first committee Tuesday.
Proposed amendments to the constitution currently require 60% approval from the public. But a resolution (SJR 1238) by Doral Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez would raise that threshold to a two-thirds vote.
Repealing an amendment, however, would only require the threshold that applied when the amendment first passed. That means voters could still reverse changes approved on a 60% threshold with a 60% vote.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee gave the resolution its first green light in the committee process along a party-line 5-4 vote. Democrats criticized the measure as a pushback against recent amendments that have passed with between three-fifths and two-thirds support in recent years.
“It seems targeted to constitutional amendments that your party, in particular, does not like,” Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy said Tuesday. “Is that why we are proposing this 66% [threshold]?”
Rodriguez argued the proposal was aimed at ensuring serious changes to the state constitution are approved by a significant-enough portion of the population.
“Constitutions are fundamentally protections from the people and the government,” Rodriguez said. “This bill makes sure that a broader group of our citizens must approve changes that are near-permanent. So I would disagree with what you’re suggesting, respectfully.”
Indeed, Republicans have been intent on raising those requirements in recent years. In 2020, the Legislature approved a bill increasing the number of signatures required for amendments proposed by citizens to appear on the ballot. Republicans also pushed a resolution in 2020 seeking to require proposed amendments be approved by voters twice. That ballot measure failed in November, however.
Opponents to these changes have contended that amending the constitution is the only way to pass issues that the Legislature refuses to take up.
In 2018, voters approved 11 of 12 ballot measures. But only four — measures to end greyhound racing, prohibit oil drilling and workplace vaping, strengthen lobbying restrictions and make it harder to expand gambling — would have passed with the two-thirds requirement.
Last year, voters approved four of six proposed amendments. Three of the four successful proposals would have passed with a two-thirds requirement. But a measure that will raise the minimum wage garnered only 61% of the vote.
If the Legislature approves the Rodriguez measure by a 60% vote in both the House and Senate, that measure would appear on the 2022 ballot. Voters would need to approve it by the current 60% threshold.
Republicans hold more than 60% of House seats and exactly 60% of Senate seats, making the Legislature’s approval a distinct possibility. West Palm Beach Republican Rep. Rick Roth’s version (HJR 61) is still awaiting a hearing in its first of two committees.
Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo offered an amendment Tuesday raising that 60% threshold as well. That would mean two-thirds of lawmakers would have to approve a resolution in order for it to appear on the ballot as a proposed amendment.
“If we are to increase the burden for approval by the citizens, we should also increase the burden for a ballot placement by the Legislature,” Taddeo argued. “If the purpose is to limit amendments to the constitution — and we just heard the vast majority of them, 118, have been passed by the Legislature — all methods of amendments should be limited.”
Republicans on the committee shot down that amendment, however.
Critics say the Rodriguez resolution and other proposals are spurred on by Republicans’ opposition to approved measures like the minimum wage increase and a 2018 initiative that gave felons the right to vote once they complete their sentence. Bracy made that argument directly in a sharp critique during debate on the bill.
“Honestly, I can’t believe that you all have the audacity to propose something like this. This is such a spit in the face to every member of the voting electorate,” Bracy argued. “This is a direct result of constitutional amendments passing that you all don’t like.”
Chair Dennis Baxley pushed back against that charge, noting that even if the resolution passes, voters will get the final say on raising the threshold. “We’re not putting this in the constitution. The voters will vote as to whether they want to make this change. You don’t trust the very voters that you’re advocating for?” Baxley asked.
However, there is bipartisan support to close the door on at least one path to amending the constitution. St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes‘ proposal to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission is ready for a vote in the full Senate.
The Rodriguez resolution next heads to the Senate Rules Committee, its second and final stop before the Senate floor.