Unless the state Senate or Gov. Ron DeSantis intervenes, a proposal to make it harder for citizens to put state Constitutional Amendments on the ballot is on its way to becoming law.
It would jeopardize several key political campaigns that are already in the works for 2020, including raising the minimum wage, legalizing recreational marijuana, banning assault weapons and expanding Medicaid to provide health insurance to more of the state’s needy.
As the Phoenix has previously reported, 12 Republican-controlled states have passed legislation since 2016 to make it more difficult to get citizen-led measures on the ballot.
The vote in the Republican-led Florida House was 71-41. A vote in the Senate has not been scheduled yet.
The new proposed changes target, specifically, the way petition gathering campaigns happen in Florida and derail them.
Democrats and progressive advocates argue that the existing Florida standards to get a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot are already among the nation’s toughest, especially the fact that the state requires 60 percent approval instead of simple majority.
A proposed Florida Constitutional Amendment has to go through a fiscal impact review and it has to be approved by the Florida Supreme Court. Because Florida is such a large state and has complex rules for petition approval, Constitutional Amendment campaigns almost always use out-of-state professional signature-gathering firms that have experience with ballot initiatives – especially California.
Among the new changes passed by the Florida House Thursday:
– Banning a campaign from paying petition gatherers based on the number of petitions they gather.
– Requiring organizers to have a statement on the ballot that says what percentage of the campaign money came from Florida and how much came from out of state.
– Requiring a statement of whether petition gatherers came from out of state.
– Requiring the ballot to include a statement of projected fiscal impact.
– Requiring that organizers submit signatures within 10 days of collecting them.
House Rep. Margaret Good, a Democrat from Sarasota, argued before the bill passed that voters need the political avenue of Constitutional Amendments because the Legislature’s makeup doesn’t represent Florida. She noted that Republican Ron DeSantis barely defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum in last fall’s governor’s race, showing about half the state voted Democratic. Yet, she pointed out, there are only 47 Democrats in the 120-member House.
“We need this check on the legislative system,” she said.
Rep. Amber Mariano, a Republican from Pasco County, countered by saying that citizens do have a way to change the system – through elections, an opinion later echoed by Republican Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa Bay, who is sponsoring the measure.
If the bill becomes law, it would go into effect immediately.
“Why didn’t we make the enacting date of this bill after 2020?” asked Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith, saying it is unfair to change the rules for campaigns already collecting petitions for the 2020 ballot.
This is not the only measure circulating in the Legislature that would make it harder to get a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot. Another proposal would raise the percentage of the electorate needed to win from 60 percent to 66.66 percent. That measure, however, would need to be voted on by the public (via constitutional amendment) next year.