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Citizen Initiative Advocates Lobby Governor To Veto 'Anti-Democratic' Citizen Petition Bill

Image: St Augistine National Cemetary; copy: Representative James Grant, Republican Tampa: "A direct democracy is for other places - not Florida."

TALLAHASSEE –  Gov. Ron DeSantis has received a controversial bill adopted by lawmakers that will impose stricter regulations on groups sponsoring petitions to place constitutional amendments before voters.

House Bill 5, which drew heat as anti-democratic from citizen activists for the way it was adopted and from county elections officials as a “nightmare,” landed on DeSantis’ desk Thursday, according to a Florida Senate notice.

HB 5 is among a slate of at least 41 bills transmitted to the Governor’s Office that were passed during the legislative session that concluded May 3.

As of Wednesday, DeSantis had signed 80 bills and vetoed two measures. The 41 transmitted last week were among 112 bills still pending, including the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

By state statute, DeSantis has 15 days to veto or sign the bill, although it automatically goes into effect after June 21 if he takes no action.

If DeSantis signs HB 5 – he has expressed tentative support – its provision goes into effect 30 days later.

Added Requirements for Citizen Petitions

The bill essentially extends the state’s voter registration system to petition-gathering, requiring every citizen initiative organization sponsoring a signature-drive have its own numbered, serialized petition provided by county elections offices.

It would require petition gatherers to register with the state and have a permanent Florida address, effectively barring out-of-state entities from ballot campaigns. The bill prohibits signature gatherers from being paid on a per-petition basis.

Petition-gatherers and groups sponsoring initiatives will also face fines and criminal charges for violating the new regulations, including $50 fines for signed petitions turned in after 30 days and $500 fines for petitions never turned in.

The League of Women Voters of Florida [LWV] is among groups calling on DeSantis to veto the bill.

“This dishonest politicking is counter to the principles of our democracy and unbecoming of our state legislature,” the group said in a letter, warning it imposes “unjustifiable barriers to citizens engaging in the political process.”

State law requires petition drives to collect 76,632 signatures from verified Florida voters to trigger a Supreme Court review. If justices sign off on the proposal’s language, supporters must then submit 766,200 signatures by Feb. 1, 2020, to get on November’s ballot.

To get on the 2020 ballot, petition-gatherers now say they’ll need to collect at least 1.1 million signatures to ensure 766,320 are verified. Groups will need to finish collecting signatures by Jan. 1 to give elections supervisors the required 30 days to verify them before Feb. 1.

Three prospective ballot measures have qualified for that preliminary review and at least three others are nearing the needed 76,632 signatures.

John Morgan and the Minimum Wage

A measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026 led by Orlando attorney John Morgan, who spearheaded the 2016 petition drive that resulted in the constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana, tweeted last week his “Florida for a Fair Wage” campaign has collected 600,000 signatures and “will be close to finished by the time the law takes effect.”

“The Legislature passed #HB5 to try & stop my effort to raise Florida’s minimum wage. I hope @GovRonDeSantis vetoes it, but if he doesn’t: Minimum wage WILL BE on the 2020 ballot & IT WILL PASS!” Morgan tweeted.

A prospective “energy choice” measure to grant customers the right to choose their electricity provider and generate/sell electricity has also surpassed the initial threshold.

But Citizens for Energy Choices Chairman Alex Patton said this week it’s unlikely the group will collect the certified 766,000 petitions before the new law takes effect.

His group called on DeSantis to veto the bill in a letter Monday.


“The uncertainty created by HB 5 and the rule-making that will be necessary to resolve it afterward will delay citizen initiatives for months,” Citizens for Energy Choices said. “This will cripple most current initiatives due to tight timelines for signature gathering.”

The new rules will create additional duties for already burdened elections officials, Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections (FSASE) President Paul Lux said last month, calling it “a world of headaches,” noting handling the new petition-processing system will require more manpower.

Adoption: Unethical

Those appealing for a veto also say the way the new rules were adopted was unethical.

On the session’s last evening, Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, grafted the petition rules as amendments onto HB 5, which proposed local sales tax referendums be held during general elections.

Grant said changes were necessary to thwart well-financed petition drives by “third-party” out-of-staters, at one point stating, “A direct democracy is for other places – not namely the United States or the state of Florida."

HB 5 passed the House 67-43 before being transmitted in the waning hour of the session to the Senate, where Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill, spearheaded its adoption in a 22-17 vote.

*This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license. Original publication date June 7, 2019

Layout and graphic added by the Observer; composite image by the Observer, image CC0: St. Augustine National Cemetary

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