Gov. Ron DeSantis signed 38 bills on Friday, including a controversial measure that could “cripple” the capacity of groups and citizens to put proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot by petition drives.
DeSantis signed House Bill 5 into law without comment amid a flurry of bill signings with delayed reactions from supporters and opponents surfacing through the weekend and on Monday.
Proponents cheered the bill, claiming it will protect the state’s constitution from “out-of-state” interlopers orchestrating petition drives to get “progressive” issues directly before voters, such as minimum wage hikes, “energy choice,” assault weapons bans and legalized recreational marijuana.
“Thank you @GovRonDeSantis for signing HB 5 into law to protect our foundational document, the Florida Constitution,” said the Associated Industries of Florida [AIF] in a Monday tweet.
“@RonDeSantisFL signed HB 5 into law today,” Rep. Nick DiCeglie, R-Largo, tweeted Friday. “It was an incredible experience to run this bill through the legislative process. Tax increases will now have to be held in a general election and the Florida Constitution is protected. Thanks to all who supported me along the way.”
DiCeglie sponsored the original HB 5, which proposed local sales tax referendums be held during general elections.
However, on the last night of the session, Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, grafted a gaggle of amendments which included the new petition rules onto HB 5.
HB 5 then passed the House 67-43 before being transmitted in the waning hour of the session to the Senate, where Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill, spearheaded its adoption in a 22-17 vote.
Opponents argue it was dirty pool and does not protect the state’s constitution, but violates it.
“Lawmakers who voted for HB 5 should go back and read the Constitution,” Progress Florida tweeted. “They and Gov. DeSantis are on the wrong side of justice.”
“We urged a veto on HB 5. The bill was actually related to local sales tax, but the petition-restricting provisions were hurriedly tacked on to the bill on the last day of session,” the Florida Policy Institute said in a tweet.
“It weakens the people’s inherent rights to amend organic law in the Constitution. That’s a fundamental constitutional right that the Legislature is essentially eviscerating,” lawyer Glenn Burhans, who chairs a political committee backing an initiative that would change the primary-election system, told The News Service of Florida.
The new law essentially extends the state’s voter registration system to petition-gathering, requiring every citizen initiative organization sponsoring a signature-drive have its own numbered, serialized petition provided by county elections offices.
It requires petition-gathers to register with the state and have a permanent Florida address, effectively barring out-of-state entities from ballot campaigns. The bill prohibits signature gatherers from being paid on a per-petition basis.
Petition-gatherers and groups sponsoring initiatives will also face fines and criminal charges for violating the new regulations, including $50 fines for signed petitions turned in after 30 days and $500 fines for petitions never turned in.
The new rules go into effect 30 days after DeSantis signed it – July 7 – and could impair the ability of about two dozen petition drives vying to get onto the November 2020 ballot.
State law requires petition drives to collect 76,632 signatures from verified Florida voters to trigger a Supreme Court review. If justices sign off on the proposal’s language, supporters must then submit 766,200 signatures by Feb. 1, 2020, to get on November’s ballot.
To get on 2020 ballot, petition-gatherers now say they’ll need to collect at least 1.1 million signatures to ensure 766,320 are verified. Groups will need to finish collecting signatures by Jan. 1 to give elections supervisors the required 30 days to verify them before Feb. 1.
Other bill signed by DeSantis include:
• HB 49, which will provide women prison inmates access to feminine products such as tampons and sanitary napkins.
• HB 375, which exempts hospice doctors from being required to check a state database before prescribing controlled substances to patients.
• HB 563, which will make domestic-violence victims eligible for unemployment compensation if they leave jobs because of the circumstances of the violence.
• HB 5011, adds one circuit judge in the 9th Judicial Circuit, one circuit judge in the 12th Judicial Circuit, one Flagler County judge and one Citrus County judge.