A new law passed by the Florida Legislature places new rules on the petition-gathering process. But this is not the only effort underway to slow down the pace of proposed constitutional amendments qualifying for the ballot in state elections.
Two prospective ballot measures also seek to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution — ironically, via the ballot.
Both prospective ballot measures were filed by the Keep Our Constitution Clean PC, a Broward County political action committee [PAC].
As of Wednesday, Keep Our Constitution had reported to the state’s Division of Elections [DOE] — including $25,000 in July — and $791,015.60 in in-kind contributions.
PAC Chairman Jason Haber and Treasurer Jason Blank, partners in the Haber-Blank law firm in Ft. Lauderdale, report the committee has spent $23,383.69 in its two petition campaigns.
Initiative 19-08 would require voters approve constitutional amendments twice for them to be enacted. Filed with the DOE on April 19, the petition drive had, as of Wednesday, 5,793 signatures.
Nevada is the only state among the 18 that allow voters to amend their constitution through direct initiative to require they do so in two separate elections before it goes into effect.
Initiative 19-05 would require a two-thirds majority to pass a proposed constitutional amendment rather than the 60 percent now required. Filed on March 14, the petition drive had one signature as of Wednesday.
Florida already requires a two-thirds supermajority for ballot measures proposing a constitutional amendment that imposes a new state tax or fee.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, sponsored a bill that would have required a two-thirds supermajority to adopt a constitutional amendment during the last legislative session. His bill did not advance out of committee.
Both efforts have a long way to go in collecting the 766,200 verified registered voter signatures that must be presented to the DOE by Feb. 1, 2020, to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.
They must also meet new rules adopted during the 2019 legislative session that went into effect on July 7.
The new rules essentially extend the state’s voter registration system for absentee ballots to petition-gathering, requiring that every citizen initiative organization sponsoring a signature-drive have its own numbered, serialized petition provided by county elections offices.
They require petition-gathers to register with the state and have a permanent Florida address, effectively barring out-of-state entities from ballot campaigns. The bill also prohibits signature gatherers from being paid on a per-petition basis.
As a result, petition-gatherers say they’ll now need at least 1.1 million signatures to ensure 766,320 are verified, and will need to finish collecting by the end of 2019 to give elections supervisors the required 30 days to verify them before Feb. 1.
Of the 26 petition drives seeking to get prospective constitutional amendments before voters, only four — proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026, to adopt an “open” primary, to deregulate the utility industry, and to stipulate in the constitution that “only a citizen” can vote — have cleared 350,000 signatures and are about halfway to qualifying for the November 2020 ballot.
A widely published March 2018 op-ed by former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Major Harding is among arguments that laid the groundwork for proposals seeking to restrict the direct initiative process.
Harding said petition-drive ballot measures threaten “micromanagement” of the state’s constitution, which is becoming “riddled with countless, ordinary laws and specifics of government policy, such as the confinement of pregnant pigs, that lessen its status.”
Handcuffing a foundational, aspirational document with too many specifics is counter-productive, he said.
“A constitution is like the foundation of a house,” Harding wrote. “The exterior and other finishes can be changed as situations or society changes. However, the foundation should only be altered when fundamental change is required.”
Harding cites the November 2000 ballot measure approved by voters that encoded development of a high-speed rail system in the state’s constitution.
“Just four years later,” he wrote, “Florida voters repealed the amendment. Had this law been enacted by the Legislature, it could have simply been changed a year later.”