Florida Senate backs making it harder to amend Constitution

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Voting along party lines Monday, the Florida Senate passed a controversial bill that would make it harder to put proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.

The Republican-backed measure (SB 1794) would impose a series of new restrictions on ballot initiatives, including increasing the signature threshold triggering Florida Supreme Court reviews.

The proposal would require increasing a 10 percent statewide signature threshold to 25 percent for court review and require meeting thresholds in half of the congressional districts, rather than the current requirement of one-quarter of the districts.

Also, the proposal would give the Florida Supreme Court the authority to decide whether an initiative is “facially invalid” under the U.S. Constitution.

The bill would require all ballot measures -- including those placed on the ballot by the Legislature -- to have a statement about the potential impact on the state budget.

Another provision in the legislation would allow county supervisors of elections to charge more to verify petition signatures.

Democrats pushed back against the measure during debate on the Senate floor Monday.

Pointing to a number of citizen-backed proposals approved by voters, such as medical-marijuana legalization and restoration of felons’ voting rights, Sen. José Javier Rodriguez called the proposed changes in the bill a “perversion” of the current system. The revisions would make the ballot-initiative process “more costly and more complicated” and would limit access to the process “to only the most wealthy, well-financed and well-organized” people and groups, the Miami Democrat said.

“It’s basically the ballot for billionaires,” Rodriguez added.

Defending the proposal, bill sponsor Travis Hutson argued that it would help protect the petition-gathering process.

“I don’t know why we don’t want to take every precaution to make sure there is no fraud when it comes to our Constitution,” Hutson, R-St. Augustine, said.

Anticipating Monday’s 23-17 partisan vote, Hutson noted that the legislation had been amended as it moved through the committee process to accommodate requests of senators on both sides of the aisle.

“Although this may not be a bipartisan bill when we go to the board,” he said, “it certainly is a bipartisan bill … in terms of work product.”