Excerpt from 1885 Florida Constitution. Photo edited and used with permission. Credit: State Archives of Florida.
A group of Democratic lawmakers and liberal advocates held a press conference in the Capitol on Tuesday, speaking before a mock tombstone denoting the end of democracy in Florida.
What’s going on?
Two bills moving swiftly through the Florida Legislature would make it prohibitively more difficult to pass citizen-based Constitutional Amendments.
“Issues like raising the minimum wage, restoring voting rights, fair districts, class sizes, and funding land and water conservation have all passed by ballot initiative, and would have failed under the current package of anti-voter initiative bills,” said Marcia Garcia, a member of the group Florida Strong.
What she didn’t add was there are ongoing campaigns to put Constitutional Amendments on the 2020 ballot, such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, banning assault weapons and expanding Medicaid for low-income people who need health care.
Those measures could be in jeopardy if lawmakers approve more rigorous requirements to place Amendments on the ballot.
Republicans are pushing two pieces of legislation that could be onerous for ballot initiatives:
One would raise the threshold to pass an Amendment from the current 60 percent to 66 and two-thirds percent, the highest in the nation.
The other measure would create a host of provisions for citizen-led Amendments, such as requiring all petition gatherers to be registered with the Secretary of State’s office and be Florida residents. Also, they couldn’t get paid per signature, as is currently the case.
Advocates who have worked on ballot initiatives say Florida’s current system makes it almost impossible to gather the more than 766,000 signatures required to get on the ballot without paying for them.
The bill that would prohibit paying petition gatherers for signatures was approved Tuesday afternoon in a Senate appropriations committee.
“They say they are protecting the Constitution. No. They’re protecting the status quo,” said Rich Templin, the legislative and political director of the Florida AFL-CIO.
“They’re protecting the process that happens inside this geographically, psychologically remote bubble, that most people can’t access, and that is dominated by wealthy, high-paid lobbyists wearing suits and shoes that most people in this state will never be able to afford.”
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