Citizens' initiatives restrictions move forward in Florida House

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By: Capitol News Service
April 19, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) – Sponsors unveiled a less onerous bill designed to make it harder to get constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Gone is a provision that only Florida residents who register with the state can gather petitions, but the bill still requires more financial disclosure on the ballot, including language that the desired change could have been enacted by lawmakers.

Rep. Dianne Hart questioned the motivation.

“Why are you putting all these obstacles in people's way? Why can’t they just go out and gather petitions how ever they get them. You’ve clear said there is no fraud that you know of,” said Hart.

“Our constitution shouldn’t be open to the world, or open to different parties or ideologies to find some billionaire to go fund something to put into our constitution,” replied bill sponsor Rep. James Grant.

The legislation keeps a provision that petition gatherers can’t be paid by the petition, as is the case now.

It passed the committee Thursday on party lines.

By: Capitol News Service
March 29, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) – After a class size initiative, a workplace smoking ban and high speed rail amendments were approved in 2002, lawmakers were successful in convincing voters to make it harder to pass amendments. Now, after the passage of medical marijuana and felons rights, the legislature is again trying to make passing initiatives harder, much harder.

After a series of successful petition drives in 2002, lawmakers were successful in raising the threshold for approval from 50 to 60 percent.

Scott McCoy of the Southern Poverty Law Center says when it comes to voters going around lawmakers, they become parochial.

“They don’t like it, of course, because they want to only game in town when it comes to making Florida law,” says McCoy.

When amendments kept passing, lawmakers shortened a petition’s unlimited lifespan to just two years.

“They’re trying to put roadblocks in that path and we have serious concerns about that,” added McCoy.

Now, after the passage of controversial felons voting rights and medical marijuana, a bill was filed and passed its only committee in the short span of 36 hours.

“It should be for Floridians to initiate that,” says Rep. Paul Renner, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, when it comes to petition drives.

The hastily-filed legislation requires petition gatherers to only be Florida residents and registered with the state.

“Let’s make sure they’re actually Floridians, not North Koreans or Russians or Californians or people from Georgia,” added Renner.

Aliki Moncrief ran the successful land conservation amendment in 2014 and says paid petition gatherers is the only way to succeed with a tight time limit and a large state.

“There’s no way we would have been able to do that as Florida’s Water and Land Legacy if we weren’t able to call on professional signature gatherers,” says Moncrief.

We asked Rep. Renner how petition drivers could flourish with only Floridians.

“I would say to them, Florida has 21 million people, they have 21 million options,” he stated.

Because the changes being proposed this year are statutory, voters don’t really have a say, except to voice their opinion.

The legislation also says that those who gather petitions can’t be paid by the petition, which is exactly how they are paid now.

The legislation also requires the ballot summary to contain the name of the sponsor, a cost estimate and contribution information, all without lengthening the 75 word limit on ballot summaries.

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