Ballot initiative restrictions move forward

Senate version of bill sponsored by St. Augustine senator

File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a controversial bill that would place more restrictions on backers of ballot initiatives, two days after the issue started moving forward in the Senate.

The House proposal (HB 7037) would make a series of changes to laws that involve subjects such as the petition-signature process and Florida Supreme Court reviews of ballot initiatives.

To get proposed constitutional amendments on the 2020 ballot, committees need to submit 766,200 valid petition signatures to the state and receive approval from the Supreme Court of the ballot wording. To trigger that Supreme Court review, committees need to submit 76,632 signatures, or about 10 percent of the 766,200.

But as an example of the proposed changes in the House bill that would make the process harder for initiative supporters, the 10 percent threshold would increase to 50 percent. That would translate to at least 383,100 signatures if the proposed requirement were in place for this year’s amendments.

The Republican-dominated Legislature is moving forward with the proposals after passing a measure in 2019 that created additional hurdles for ballot initiatives.

Representatives of some groups blasted the new proposal during Wednesday’s Appropriations Committee meeting, saying the initiative process is an avenue for people to make changes in the state.

“This bill, in essence, is designed to silence our voice,” said Trish Neely of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

But supporters say the initiative process has been abused over the years by big donors pushing issues through constitutional amendments.

“I will never apologize for doing everything possible to protect our Constitution,” House sponsor James Grant, R-Tampa, said.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Tuesday approved the Senate version of the bill (SB 1794), sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine.