TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A move to make it harder to change the Florida Constitution was backed along party lines Monday by a House committee, with supporters saying it would lessen the influence of “outside interests.”
But the proposal (HJR 57) to require a higher percentage of votes to approve constitutional amendments advanced without support from Democrats and -- according to bill sponsor Rep. Rick Roth -- lukewarm backing from House leaders.
“Nobody in leadership really is in favor of this bill, but they feel like it is the right time to do it,” Roth, a West Palm Beach Republican, said after the House State Affairs Committee approved the measure.
The proposal would require support from two-thirds of voters to pass constitutional amendments. Currently, constitutional amendments can pass with 60 percent of the vote.
If approved by the Legislature, the proposed two-thirds requirement would have to go on the 2020 ballot because it would involve changing the Constitution.
Roth described the proposal as a way for voters to decide if they want to “slow down the process.”
“Change is better when it’s manageable, not disruptive,” Roth said.
An identical Senate proposal (SJR 232) has cleared one committee and awaits a hearing before the Judiciary Committee.
To appear on the 2020 ballot, either proposal would have to get support from three-fifths, or 60 percent of the House and Senate. That could be a stumbling block as Democrats hold 17 of 40 Senate seats, or 42.5 percent. If Democrats stick together in opposition, they could block the measure.
Democrats hold 46 of the current 117 House seats, or 39.3 percent.
Critics of Roth’s proposal contend, in part, it would increase the chances that a minority of voters would be able to decide the fate of proposed constitutional amendments.
Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, said the constitutional amendment process is a way for Floridians to address issues the Legislature has ignored. She blamed redistricting, which has resulted in Republican-dominated legislative chambers amid tight statewide elections.
“This is right now the only answer that citizens have to this very, very broken process,” Good said. “I believe that raising the bar to 66 percent of the voters is quashing the voice of the voters and the citizens of this state.”
Rep. Adam Hattersley, D-Riverview, said it is already difficult for citizens’ initiatives to get on the ballot and pass. Of the 276 measures proposed by citizens groups over the past 30 years, 34 amendments have made the ballot and 28 have been approved by voters.
“It’s already difficult enough for the public to have their voices heard,” Hattersley said.
The proposed changes are supported by groups such as Associated Industries of Florida and Americans for Prosperity, while opponents include the Florida AFL-CIO, 1000 Friends of Florida, and the League of Women Voters of Florida.
Roth’s proposal came after numerous high-profile constitutional amendments were on the November ballot, including efforts backed by wealthy supporters from out of state. Voters approved 11 of 12 ballot measures in November, including seven proposed by the state Constitution Revision Commission.
Roth, pointing to examples such as a 2002 amendment that banned a controversial pig-farming technique, described some of the amendments that have been approved in recent years as being “purposely vague,” “broad,” and “misleading.”
“With this resolution (his proposal), we protect our Florida Constitution and we can also insulate the people in the state of Florida and the industries that create jobs, to keep Florida what it is today and protect them from outside interests that seek to use our constitutional amendment process to further their agenda, not ours,” Roth said.
Voters in 2006 increased the approval threshold for constitutional amendments from a majority to 60 percent Since then, the success rate of proposed constitutional amendments has been 61 percent.
Only four amendments on the 2018 ballot -- measures to end greyhound racing, prohibit oil drilling and workplace vaping, strengthen lobbying restrictions and make it harder to expand gambling -- would have passed with the two-thirds requirement.