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Citizen Constitutional Initiatives Under Attack by Florida Legislature

Amending Florida's Constitution - Under Attack

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Lawmakers latest legislative attack on a citizen’s right to direct democracy is moving quickly through the Florida Legislature. This anti-democratic legislative effort would make it harder for citizens to amend the constitution by ballot initiative. These bills erect unnecessary rules and restrictions on citizens collecting petition signatures to place an initiative on the ballot, and dramatically raise an already high bar for passage even higher. 

House bill, PCB JDC 19-01, and companion Senate bill, SB 7096, erect unnecessary rules and restrictions on citizens collecting petition signatures to place an initiative on the ballot. HRJ 57 and SJR 232 seek to increase the threshold for voters to pass a constitutional amendment to two-thirds, up from the current 60%. Three of these bills have already passed through initial committee stops, and the fourth, SB 7096, is on the agenda in the Judiciary Committee on Monday, 4/1/19.

When politicians make it harder for citizens to participate in and have a voice in our democracy it is an affront to the ideals of our system of government of, by and for the people.


The Florida Legislature has a long history of thwarting the will of voters. We have seen this with the class size amendment (2002), Fair Districts amendments (2010), the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative (2014), medical cannabis (2016), and now amendment 4 (2018), one of the largest expansions of voting rights in decades. These efforts pass with far greater support than any statewide candidates and yet, our so-called representatives attempt to undermine them after we send them to Tallahassee to represent us.

Time and time again, the Legislature has failed to act on critically important issues with broad public support among Floridians. In these moments, Floridians have launched and led ballot initiatives, a fundamental form of direct democracy. This process is already extremely difficult, especially compared to the process the Legislature and the Constitution Revision Commission must undertake to add constitutional amendments to the ballot.

Citizen Petition Drives are Underway

Citizen-led petition drives are now underway to raise the minimum wage, expand Medicaid, open primaries and deregulate utilities.

Making it Harder for Citizens

The Florida Legislature is now trying to make it harder for citizens to amend the state constitution.

PCB JDC 19-01 (and Senate companion SB 7096) would silence direct democracy with unnecessary rules and restrictions on petition gatherers seeking to place an amendment on the ballot, and how the proposed amendment is presented to voters on the ballot, among them: 

• A person who compensates an initiative petition-gatherer based on the number of petitions gathered would commit a misdemeanor of the first degree. This is unnecessary and illogical, and will punish hard working advocates. Fraud is already prevented from quality control efforts. Verifying each petition costs money, and if employees are paid to collect petitions, the employer has an obligation to verify petitions not only for their bottom line, but also to achieve the goal of successfully qualifying an amendment for the ballot.
• Petition-gatherers would be required to be Florida residents and register with the Secretary of State prior to obtaining signatures. Not only does this suppress direct democracy, but the prohibition on employment by non-residents violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states that "the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.”
• Requiring the ballot to include the name of the initiative sponsor AND the percentage of money raised from in-state sources.
• Requiring that the amendment include, if it will cost money, a statement IN BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS that the proposal "MAY REQUIRE INCREASED TAXES OR A REDUCTION IN GOVERNMENT SERVICES".
• Requiring a separate ruling by the Florida Supreme Court which must also be printed on the ballot, determining whether the proposed amendment policy could be done by the Legislature instead of changing the Constitution.

The bill would apply to petition drives that are already underway and aiming for the 2020 ballot (though not retroactively to signatures already submitted), impacting efforts underway to raise the minimum wage, Medicaid expansion, open primaries and energy deregulation amendments, among others.

Amending Passage Requirements

In a separate, but related attack on direct democracy, SJR 232 and HRJ 57 would increase the threshold for voters to pass a constitutional amendment to two-thirds, up from the current supermajority of 60%. Florida already has one of the highest requirements for an amendment to win in the country.1

At a time of historic and long overdue changes that will benefit millions of Floridians, made possible by the citizen-led petition process, lawmakers should not be making it harder for Floridians to amend our Constitution. Is it coincidence that some high-profile amendments opposed by legislative leadership, including last year’s Amendment 4 (64%) and the 2010 Fair Districts amendments (63%), even with their broad supermajority of support, would not have passed had the two-thirds requirement been in effect? 

These legislative proposals represent a blatant attempt by lawmakers to silence citizens following historic victories, and to thwart momentum behind current citizen-led petition gathering efforts.

This is not a new fight. Corporate interests and the politicians they have influence over have tried to silence citizen-led petitions for years. 

These misguided proposals bode ill for the future of direct democracy in Florida. State lawmakers should be expanding citizen access to government and direct democracy, not restricting it to silence voters.

Damien Filer is the communications director for Progress Florida and an award winning political strategist.

Contributing to this Op-Ed are: Common Cause Florida, Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Organize Florida, SEIU Florida, Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund

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