- ACLU of Florida
- citizen initiative
- citizen initiatives
- Florida AFL-CIO
- Florida Constitution
- George Soros
- HJR 1127
- House Joint Resolution 1127
- House Public Integrity and Elections Committee
- Jason Brodeur
- Kara Gross
- Mike Beltran
- Public Integrity and Elections Committee
- Rich Templin
- Senate Joint Resolution 1412
- SJR 1412
A measure to limit the changes the public can propose to the Florida Constitution started moving through the House committee process Tuesday.
The proposed measure (HJR 1127), carried by Lithia Republican Rep. Mike Beltran, would limit the subject of citizen initiatives to procedural matters or to the structure of government or the constitution. While the measure passed the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee, the proposed constitutional amendment received pushback from Democrats and activist groups.
Interest groups have used the citizen initiative process in recent years to pass constitutional amendments on issues that were unpopular in the Legislature. Examples include establishing felons’ right to vote and raising the minimum wage. In the past, some donors have poured millions of dollars into political committees backing ballot initiatives.
“I don’t think the constitution should be for sale to special interests to do their policy issues,” Beltran told the committee. “It should be limited to the legitimate matters for the structure of our government.”
Lawmakers in recent years have imposed a variety of restrictions on the citizen initiative process to limit paid signature gathering and shorten the time for acquiring signatures. Proponents say that work is part of a broader effort to reserve the constitution for functional matters, not policy matters.
“This resolution, in my opinion, strengthens our constitution,” Beltran said. “It protects us from diluting our most sacred rights by putting policy into the constitution.”
Democrats contend proposed limitations to the amendment process are a response to the public passing constitutional amendments after the Legislature failed to act on popular policies. And activist groups say past restrictions on the process have weakened the general public’s ability to propose amendments, meaning the ones that do get through only survive with the support of major donors.
Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, told the committee the constitution is the people’s document, and if people want an amendment added to the constitution, it should be there. He criticized the measure for further taking the amendment process out of the hands of the public.
“This is elitist,” Templin said. “This is a legislative body saying, ‘We know more than the people. We know better than you do. That shouldn’t be in the constitution.'”
Templin’s comments drew a direct response from Beltran.
“If there is going to be elitism in the amendment of our constitution, I would rather it be the people’s elected representatives rather than some out-of-state interest like George Soros, who has been able to buy amendments to our constitution time and again,” Beltran said.
The ACLU of Florida published a statement opposing the measure after the 11-5 committee vote, which broke down along partisan lines.
“Certain legislators continue to find new ways to make the already-stringent citizen initiative process even more challenging for Floridians,” said Kara Gross, legislative director of the ACLU of Florida.
Changes to felons’ voting rights, medical marijuana laws and environmental policy wouldn’t have been possible under the proposal, she continued.
“HJR 1127 is the latest attempt to sabotage Florida’s citizen initiative process and undermine the ability of Floridians to have their voices heard,” Gross said. “Its intent is to prevent the public from voting on amendments that will improve the lives of everyday Floridians. This bill would erode direct democracy in this state.”
If the Legislature passes Beltran’s resolution, voters would have to approve his proposed amendment before it is added to the constitution.
The citizen initiative process is one of five ways to amend the Florida Constitution. Voters must approve citizen initiatives with a 60% vote share for provisions to be added to the constitution.
Beltran helped pass a proposal last year to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission. That proposal will be on the ballot in November.
Sanford Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur is carrying the Senate version of Beltran’s citizen initiative measure (SJR 1412). While Beltran’s measure now awaits a vote in its final committee before it heads to the House floor, Brodeur’s version has not been scheduled for a committee hearing yet.