Gov. DeSantis signs law taking aim at citizen ballot initiatives, including raising minimum wage to $15

Petition gathering in South Florida. Regulate Florida campaign photo via Facebook

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed 38 bills into law Friday, including one that will make it difficult to collect petition signatures to place constitutional amendments on the Florida ballot.

HB 5 throws fresh doubt on the future of citizens’ initiatives already in the works, including proposed amendments to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, ban assault weapons, expand Medicaid to cover the state’s needy, and let Floridians choose electricity providers.

All are matters the GOP-dominated Legislature has refused to act upon.

“They absolutely refuse to do what the voters are telling them to do. Now they’ve reacted to that process by simply making it impossible, so they’ll never have to do this again,” said Rich Templin, political director of the Florida AFL-CIO.

“I’m sure there will be some way for voters to do the work to fully comply with this law, but how expensive is it going to be?” Templin said.

The governor’s office released the list of bills he’d signed but offered no comment on the substance of any of the legislation.

The measure bans the common practice of paying petition signature gathers based on the number of signatures they collect. Doing so would be a crime – as would failure by gatherers to register first with the state. Gatherers must turn in affidavits attesting that each signature was harvested in their presence, and will have 30 days to deliver signed petitions to state officials – upon pain of fines levied for each late signature.

Furthermore, initiative sponsors will have to submit each proposal to a state panel that would estimate what they would cost, and the information would have to be shared with potential voters. Cost estimates are required currently, but the new law says the estimate has to be printed on the ballot.

“The Florida Legislature has been after the citizens’ initiative since at least 2004,” said Templin, whose union members have supported citizen initiatives in the past. The antipathy grew out of a successful campaign to raise Florida’s minimum wage years ago. “It’s taking a constitutional right and making it very expensive to see that right fulfilled,” Templin said.

What’s more, he said, the Legislature has repeatedly ignored clear instructions by the voters, pointing to a string of successful citizen initiatives that he said the Legislature has frustrated – against gerrymandering, to reduce class sizes, and to buy conservation land – to name a few.

Also this year, the Legislature passed a bill requiring felons to pay all outstanding fines, fees, and restitution before recovering their voting rights under last year’s Amendment 4.

The measure fits within a national trend – as the Florida Phoenix reported in April, Republicans have  introduced hundreds of bills in 27 states to threaten ballot initiatives in the past 2 1/2 years, including 20 this year.

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