Voter groups call bill 'the final nail in the coffin’ for ballot iniatives
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida voters won’t see recreational marijuana or an assault weapons ban on the ballot this year due to new restrictions on ballot initiatives passed in 2019.
“It’s unfortunate that the Legislature wants to muzzle its fellow citizens,” said Gail Schwartz, chair of Ban Assault Weapons NOW.
The legislation would make amending the Florida Constitution even harder by requiring campaigns to pay the full cost of counting petitions. Currently, they pay 10 cents a petition.
It would also dramatically raise the threshold to trigger a review by the Florida Supreme Court from 10% of the required 766,000 petitions to 50%.
Another part of the bill would effectively prevent committees from collecting signatures for one election cycle and then using them for a subsequent cycle, according to a House staff analysis. Currently, signatures are valid for two years from the date they were signed. But the legislation would mandate all signatures be rendered invalid on Feb. 1 of every even-numbered year.
The bill also will require the attorney general to ask the state Supreme Court to determine whether proposed amendments violate the U.S. Constitution. Currently, the court is only required to determine if the ballot language is misleading or contains more than one subject.
Bill sponsor Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, isn’t hiding his intent. He said he believes it’s too easy to amend the state Constitution.
“Our charter liberties should be protected in a Constitution. It should be clear. It should be unambiguous. It should be difficult to amend,” Grant said while speaking at the bill’s final House committee stop.
During the hearing, the bill faced almost unanimous opposition from a wide range of groups.
“These will strip away the constitution from the hands of the people and into the hands of millionaires, corporations and dark money,” said Ida Eskamani, with the New Florida Majority.
Kara Gross, with the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “Elected officials should be protecting constitutional rights, not restricting them.”
But the bill passed on a party-line vote.
Grant said the bill isn’t retroactive, so signatures already gathered for the recreational marijuana and assault weapons ban initiatives would still be valid for the 2022 ballot.
“You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game, so those petitions that have been previously collected will be covered by the law at the time they were collected,” Grant said.
But those heavily involved in the ballot initiative process -- such as Aliki Moncrief, with the Florida Conservation Voters -- assert for future grassroots campaigns, the challenges the legislation will pose will be insurmountable.
“This bill really represents the final nail in the coffin for citizens’ initiatives when it comes to everyday people, small organizations actually being able to have their voice heard,” Moncrief said.
The bill is ready for the House floor, but still has two more stops in the Senate.
Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved./News Service of Florida