FILE - Bobby Payne

Florida state Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka

(The Center Square) – Last year, Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature imposed a series of “ballots for billionaires” restrictions making citizen-initiated constitutional amendment petition drives more complex and costly.

This year, Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature will consider a bill that prohibits billionaires from financing those signature-gathering requirements mandated under 2020’s “ballots for billionaires” bill.

The House Public Integrity & Elections Committee Monday endorsed House Bill 699 for a second time in a partisan 12-6 vote after it was unanimously approved by the panel on March 4 and by the House State Affairs Committee on March 17.

The measure was headed for the House floor until sponsor Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, amended it last week. Now HB 699 must go before both again.

The original HB 699 sought to prohibit candidates from donating “excess campaign contributions” to a nonprofit where they work. Payne’s amendment caps contributions at $3,000 to any political committee financing the collection of signatures to place a citizen initiative on the ballot.

Payne told the PIE panel Monday he sponsored the amendment after speaking with Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who had filed Senate Bill 1890, which proposed a $1,000 cap but did not have a House companion.

SB 1890 makes its debut hearing Tuesday before the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee. Rodrigues said he will amend it to match HB 699’s $3,000 cap.

Florida election laws do not limit contributions to political committees orchestrating citizen-initiated ballot measures. Payne’s HB 699 would impose the same limits for donations to candidates for statewide office have.

‘It’s our duty as representatives and members of the legislature to protect our most sacred document,” Payne said, noting the prohibitions only apply until the measure has secured enough verified voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Democrats said the sudden, dramatic changes make HB 699 far different – and far more partisan.

“All of us were supportive of House Bill 699 as it was the first time it came through,” said Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville. “This now looks like something completely different to me.”

Last year’s “ballots for billionaires” raised the threshold for a Supreme Court review of a proposed ballot measure to 25 percent of all registered voters in at least half state congressional districts; required sponsors pay “actual cost” for validating signatures, up to $1.05 each; requires petition signatures be re-validated Feb. 1 of even-numbered years; requires sponsors garner 8 percent of voters in 18 districts; require only “negative” financial projections be included on ballot language.

HB 699 has been dubbed "The Anti-John Morgan Bill" because of the money the trial attorney and his Orlando-based law firm have raised to support citizen-initiated petition drives.

Morgan’s firm kicked in more than $6 million over the three years preceding 2016’s ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana and nearly $5 million in support of Amendment 2, which voters approved in November, to raise the state’s minimum wage from $8.46 an hour to $10 in September with $1 an hour increases annually until it’s $15 in 2026.

But the measure would also have allowed Florida Citizen Voters to collect more than $2.455 million from John Loudon, a former Missouri state legislator, member of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and a former advisor to America First Policies, to adopt Amendment 1, which states “only” citizens can vote.

Amendment 3, a failed proposal to allow all registered voters to cast ballots in “open” primary elections for state offices, received more than $6.976 million in contributions — about $6.6 million raised by Miami health-care executive Mike Fernandez.