ACLU: DeSantis backs law allowing only super wealthy, special interest groups “to have a say in our direct democracy”

Constitution
Excerpt from 1885 Florida Constitution. Photo edited and used with permission. Credit: State Archives of Florida.

A major civil rights group has condemned Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to back a law to create new barriers for citizen groups trying to advance state constitutional amendments.

The Republican governor signed the measure (SB 1794) this week, which adds more requirements for initiative campaigns seeking to gather voter signatures in order to put a constitutional amendment before Florida voters.

The bill passed the GOP-led Legislature along partisan lines, with the Democrats in opposition.

“Today is a sad day for our state’s democracy. Instead of embracing our state’s proud history of citizen-led ballot initiatives, state politicians have stifled the ability for Floridians to directly participate in our democracy by passing and signing this bill into law,” Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said in a statement released Thursday.

Even before the adoption of the law, Kubic noted, Florida “already had one of the strictest ballot measure requirements in the country,” including requiring ballot measures pass with at least 60 percent of the vote.

“And yet the people of Florida persevered to overcome those obstacles to improve all of our lives,” Kubic said. “Namely, they restored the right (of former felons) to vote, ensured that sick individuals would have access to medical marijuana, and preserved the state’s natural water and land resources all through the citizen initiative process.”

Among the provisions in the law is the requirement that citizen groups collect more signatures in order to trigger a state Supreme Court review of the measures, which is a critical step in getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

The law prohibits citizen groups from using voter signatures gathered in one election for a later election. The signatures were previously valid for two years after they were collected.

The law allows local supervisors of elections to charge the “actual cost” of verifying the voter signatures that are submitted for review. And it gives the state Supreme Court the authority to decide whether the ballot measures are “facially invalid” under the U.S. Constitution.

“The provisions in this new law will make our state’s citizen initiative process unreasonably and exponentially more difficult and expensive and allow only the super wealthy and special interest groups to have a say in our direct democracy,” Kubic said. “All people should have equitable access to our citizens initiative process. This is not what democracy looks like.”

Here is a prior Florida Phoenix story on the law.