TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Republicans are on the verge of once again making it more difficult for voters to change the state constitution after the House on Monday sent Gov. Ron DeSantis a bill to limit contributions to groups promoting ballot initiatives.
Political committees seeking to change the constitution would be limited to $3,000 individual contributions until their proposal is approved for the ballot — a limit that could have made it impossible for medical marijuana and an increase in minimum wage to get before voters.
It passed on a 75-40 vote, with Republicans arguing that it is needed to keep out-of-state special interest money from influencing the state constitution and Democrats arguing it was a blatant attempt by the GOP to squash voters' rights to implement policy Republicans refuse to consider.
“It's our duty to make sure that only the best ideas come from people from our state, from Florida, are part of our guiding document," said Republican Rep. Bobby Payne.
But Democrats said non-Floridians can't vote on ballot initiatives, and it is Floridians who have the final say on issues placed in the constitution.
“What the voters want we’re not always delivering,” said Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani. "Environmental conservation, economic equity, medical cannabis -– these are all subjects of major ballot amendments that were citizen-led that we never took action on. If anything, to some degree, we slowed it down.”
Medical marijuana was approved by voters in 2016 and a gradual increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour was approved last year. Trial lawyer John Morgan, a Floridian, spent millions of dollars of his own money to get the items on the ballots. Republicans in the Legislature opposed those issues.
Under the bill, Morgan would have been limited to $3,000 contributions on each issue until they made the ballot.
It takes at least 60% support of votes cast to amend the constitution. It used to be a simple majority before Republicans under then-Gov. Jeb Bush pushed to increase the threshold.
Since then, Republicans have enacted a number of policies to make it more difficult for citizens to pass a constitutional amendment.
Last year, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that raised the threshold for the number of signatures needed for a petition to be reviewed by the Supreme Court for inclusion on the ballot from 10% of registered voters to 25%.
In 2019, DeSantis signed a bill that requires paid petition gatherers to register with the secretary of state, outlaws paying gatherers based on the number of signatures they collect and creates fines if petitions are not turned in within 30 days. The petitions now also have to have the name and permanent address of the gatherer.
DeSantis is expected to sign the bill being sent to him.
Separately, Republicans are also seeking a ballot measure that would ask voters to raise the threshold to pass a constitutional amendment from 60% of the votes cast to two-thirds.
Among other bills the House passed Monday were measures that would:
— Ask the federal government to authorize the state to replace yellow flashing signals activated by pedestrians at crosswalks with red flashing lights. If not authorized, the yellow lights would be removed by 2025. Supporters said drivers see yellow and think they should slow down, but not stop. Opponents said yellow flashing lights are better than none.
— Expand law enforcement use of drones to allow their use to monitor traffic and gatherings of 50 or more people. Opponents questioned whether the bill would infringe on privacy rights.
— Require first aid and CPR education in public schools.