A bill raising the threshold for amending Florida’s Constitution cleared the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee Monday. Members voted 11-6 on a largely party-line vote.
The legislation (HJR 61) would put a question to voters whether there should be a two-thirds majority requirement for proposed constitutional amendments to pass. Right now, it takes a 60% majority to approve an amendment.
Rep. Rick Roth, a West Palm Beach Republican, noted the Legislature must have a two-thirds majority vote in order to raise taxes in Florida. It’s not right that a smaller majority of voters can impose major policy changes in Florida when the representative government elected by the people must meet a stricter requirement.
“We understand as elected representatives of the people, now is the time to protect our freedoms and constitutional rights,” he said.
If passed by the Legislature, the question would go before voters on a statewide ballot, where, ironically, it could pass with just a 60% vote. The amendment allows for constitutional amendments to be repealed by the majority required when passed. That means amendments approved with the required 60% vote, would require 60% of the vote for repeal, but measures adopted under the 2/3 rule, would require the higher standard for repeal.
Critics of the legislation cast it as a potential barrier that would have killed many positive changes approved by voters in recent years.
The League of Women Voters offered up other examples, like the $15 minimum wage, that weren’t considered by the GOP-led Legislature.
“Because the Legislature doesn’t act when presented with certain ideas, that’s why we have a citizen initiative process,” Thompson said.
Roth rejected the idea that some initiatives would ultimately fail under his proposal, even if they did not pass the first time. He noted Florida’s medical marijuana initiative, which failed in 2014 after earning 57% of the vote, passed two years later when enough support came out to exceed the 60% requirement.
“Good ideas may fail to pass, but if voted on a second time, may pass with better wording and more bipartisan support,” Roth said.
He also suggested partisan media makes it harder for citizens to make informed decisions on amendments.
“Success in a democratic republic depends on an informed electorate,” he said.