Senate begins advancing proposal to block many citizen ballot initiatives
Jason Brodeur. Image via Colin Hackley.

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Florida is a republic, not a direct democracy, Republicans say.

A measure to limit what the public can propose to amend the Florida Constitution is now moving in the Senate after emerging from the House committee process.

Republican lawmakers are offering a change to the constitution that would limit citizen initiatives to procedural matters, the structure of government or the constitution. The House is ready to consider its version of the measure (HJR 1127), and the Senate version (SJR 1412) is catching up after passing from its first panel on Tuesday.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted 5-4, along party lines, to advance the resolution from Sen. Jason Brodeur.

Interest groups have used the citizen initiative process in recent years to pass constitutional amendments on issues 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.

“Such attempts weaken our separation of powers, imperil our liberty, and place our constitution up for auction to the state’s special interest,” Brodeur said.

The Sanford Republican told the panel that Florida is a republic, not a direct democracy, meaning voters elect lawmakers to study and make policies, so they don’t have to. With the list of ballot initiatives per cycle sometimes pushing a dozen, Brodeur said Floridians could become beleaguered by the questions, which only provide brief context.

“They asked me how I want them to vote on constitutional amendments, inverting the traditional relationship between an elected official and a citizen in a republic form of government,” Brodeur said.

Brodeur noted that the amendment on restoring felons’ voting rights would still be a valid citizen initiative under his proposed constitutional amendment. That’s because the issue deals with voting rights.

Constitutions define a relationship between people and the government, committee Chair Dennis Baxley told senators.

“Instead, we’ve now got a process where all these (interests) can be purchase a place if you have money to get the balance,” Baxley continued. “We’re questioning that and putting it back for the people.”

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.

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. Committee Vice Chair Annette Taddeo, a Democratic candidate for Governor, filed an amendment to the resolution that would have renamed the measure the “Lawmakers Think They Know Better Than Floridians Amendment.”

“I just think Tallahassee has a hearing problem,” Taddeo said, “because the voters have clearly spoken on so many issues, whether it’s restoring for voting rights, and we come up here, and we say, ‘Well, they didn’t really mean that.'”

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. Florida AFL-CIO lobbyist Rich Templin told the panel that changes to the constitution dating back to 1972 have reaffirmed that the citizen initiative process is intended to be a “check on an unresponsive legislature.”

Paradoxically, if the Legislature passes the resolution, voters would have to approve his proposed amendment before adding it 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 to add provisions to the constitution.

The House resolution sponsor and Lithia Republican Rep. Mike Beltran helped pass a proposal last year to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission, another method to amending the constitution. That proposal will be on the ballot in November.

Brodeur and Beltran’s citizen initiative resolution would also appear on the ballot if approved.

Before the Ethics and Elections Committee’s vote, Brodeur made a final plea to Democrats:

“It’s possible you don’t want to get rid of or limit citizen initiatives, but you do like this bill so that citizens can show me exactly how much they don’t like it.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


6 comments

  • Charles

    February 8, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    This is a bad premise and bill
    Wake up Republicans!
    This is taking away the will of the residents of Florida
    SEND THIS TO THE TRASH HEAP

    • Ocean Joe

      February 8, 2022 at 3:38 pm

      Good comment Chuck.

  • Ron Ogden

    February 8, 2022 at 4:43 pm

    “Florida is a republic, not a direct democracy, Republicans say.”

    Of course it is. The American Founders drew it up that way, to reflect and improve upon the parliamentary model of England. Ben Franklin declared it to be a republic (“If you can keep it,” he said–a prescient warning).
    You cannot run a nation of 330 million people spread across 4 million square miles like it was some kind of New England town meeting, where every freeholder can throw his darling idea for a law into the pot for general discussion. Florida is just one part of this US republic. Lord knows it has its own rules, but its Constitutional amendment process, characterized by sunburned twenty-somethings haunting the front doors of public libraries from Escambia to Dade begging people to sign petitions the consequences of which they can barely imagine, is silly.

    • lowercase d

      February 10, 2022 at 3:29 pm

      Ron , Florida wasn’t ceded to the U.S. until 1819, and didn’t become a state until 1845. State constitutions around the country incorporate a right of initiative, and the law is quite settled on ballot initiatives being entirely consistent with a republic. In any case, what the Founding Fathers thought about how best to govern the country in the late 1700s matters a lot less than what we think today with the benefit of hindsight and the experience of all the things they did not and could not anticipate. Personally, I think it’s beyond high time that we gain the right of initiative at the federal level to sort out the disfunction there and throughout our politics.
      Check out this interesting movie on the subject here:
      http://documentaryheaven.com/its-time-we-talked/
      All that said, Florida’s right if initiative is currently limited to constitutional amendments, and really should be expanded. Until then, Floridians wishing to limit initiative subject matter have a point.

  • Monsignor

    February 8, 2022 at 7:54 pm

    Bad legislation as it eliminates citizen initiatives. The legislature may want to be the sole voice of The People, but the direct voice of The People should not be silenced.This session they are broadening the power of the voters to recall county commissioners. It seems grossly illogical, and self serving to give the voters more statutory power to act directly with elected officials, bur curtail their right to to deal directly with issues of their own initiative.
    Don’t cheat Florida voters, VOTE AGAINST THIS BAD LEGISLATION.

  • Deborah Corbin

    February 10, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    “The Sanford Republican told the panel that Florida is a republic, not a direct democracy, meaning voters elect lawmakers to study and make policies, so they don’t have to. (Sen. Jason Brodeur.) Sen. Brodeur this kind of thinking is exactly what is wrong with many folks in the FL legislature. You sir are elected by the people to represent our views … Not to decided what we should vote for. Elected leaders are voted in and they certainly can be voted out. I find the audacity of your statement outrageous. Many registered voting citizens of the sunshine state do indeed follow what is happening at the Capitol. VOTE DOWN this bad bill.

Comments are closed.


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