A proposal to raise the threshold for amending the Florida Constitution is headed to the House floor.
The measure (HJR 61), itself a proposed constitutional amendment, would put a question to voters whether there should be a two-thirds majority requirement for future proposed constitutional amendments to pass. Since 2006, it has taken a 60% majority to approve an amendment.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-6, along party lines, to give the measure its second and final approval in the committee process.
Rep. Rick Roth, the West Palm Beach Republican who is carrying the proposed amendment, told the panel that things, without providing specifics, are evolving quickly on the national scene.
“During these rapidly changing times … I believe now is the right time to ask our citizens to have a more deliberative process by requiring a greater bipartisan supermajority, two-thirds support, to amend our constitution,” Roth said.
The amendment would allow for constitutional amendments to be repealed by the majority required when passed.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 two-thirds rule, a 66.7% vote, would require the higher standard for repeal.
It’s becoming more difficult for people to get the facts around current events with the media “not giving you both sides of the story,” Roth posited.
“The success and the constitutional amendment process is totally dependent upon voters having knowledge of the facts — and I dare say we’re at a tough time right now where we’re really struggling to know what the facts are,” he added.
He also noted that voters placed a two-thirds requirement on the Legislature in order to raise taxes.
There are five ways in Florida to amend the state constitution, all of which currently require the 60% threshold.
Critics of Roth’s proposal cast it as a potential barrier that would have killed many positive changes approved by voters in recent years. Of the 31 measures that have passed since the 60% threshold was implemented in 2006, only 14 received two-thirds support.
Several recently approved amendments, like the Fair Districts, Florida Forever and $15 minimum wage amendments, would not have passed by a two-thirds vote. Those proposals didn’t come out of the Legislature. They came out of the citizen initiative process, one of the five ways to amend the Constitution.
If the House and Senate pass Roth’s proposal with 60% support, the question would, likely in 2022, go before voters on a statewide ballot, where it could pass with just a 60% vote. Democratic Rep. Mike Grieco said it would be intellectually consistent to require that Roth’s proposed amendment pass by the same two-thirds vote it would require for future proposals.
“I think your argument would be stronger, if you think this is so important and it’s such a fundamental issue, then two thirds plus one of Floridians should have to vote up on this if it goes to the ballot,” he said.
Roth’s measure is one of several recent proposals to limit ways for people to amend the Florida Constitution. North Fort Myers Republican Rep. Spencer Roach noted the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times since it was ratified in 1789, while the Florida Constitution has been amended 140 times in the last 50 years.
“I think that it’s far too easy to amend the Florida Constitution,” Roach said, adding that amendments should be reserved for structural changes.
An identical proposal in the Florida Senate (SB 1238), carried by Doral Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, has been waiting for a hearing in its final committee stop, the Senate Rules Committee, for more than a month.