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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Florida Republicans pass bill kneecapping ballot amendments as part of anti-democratic platform

Posted By on Tue, Apr 27, 2021 at 9:59 AM

click to enlarge Florida's Capitol building in Tallahassee - ADOBE
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  • Florida's Capitol building in Tallahassee

In the latest effort by Republican lawmakers to make it harder to amend the Florida Constitution, the state House on Monday gave final approval to a bill that would place a $3,000 cap on contributions to political committees trying to put initiatives on the ballot.

The GOP-controlled House voted 75-40 to pass the measure (SB 1890), which was approved by the Senate on April 15 and is headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

It comes after deep-pocketed backers have largely financed drives to pass constitutional amendments on issues such as legalizing medical marijuana, increasing the minimum wage, and preventing gambling expansion.

House sponsor Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, said the Constitution is the state’s “fundamental document” and that many of the changes that have been made could have been handled in statutes. The Legislature can more easily change statutes to address “circumstances, knowledge improvement, demographic changes (and) policy preferences,” he said.

“It’s our duty to make sure that only the best ideas from people from our state, from Florida, are part of our guiding document,” he said.

But Democrats said backers of ballot initiatives have needed to propose constitutional amendments because the Legislature has not responded to the wishes of the public on issues.

“What the voters want, we’re not always delivering,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said.

The bill is the latest in a series of attempts by the Legislature to clamp down on the constitutional amendment process. Lawmakers, for example, passed changes last year that toughened petition-signature requirements for putting initiatives on the ballot.

Under the bill, contributions to political committees backing initiatives would be limited to $3,000 until the point when initiatives have met requirements to get on the ballot. After that point, contributions would not face a cap.

But with backers of proposed amendments required to submit 891,589 petition signatures to get measures on the 2022 ballot, paid petition-gathering drives likely would cost millions of dollars.

“This bill does more than just limit contributions to $3,000 to support petition gathering for constitutional amendments,” Rep Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said. “It may actually ensure that no citizen-led constitutional amendment makes it before voters ever again.”

Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, also questioned the constitutionality of the contribution caps.

“This is an attempt to limit core political speech. You can’t do that,”Geller, a lawyer, said.

Payne and other supporters of the bill have pointed to wealthy out-of-state donors pouring money into Florida to support ballot initiatives.

But some high-profile amendments have been largely bankrolled by Floridians such as Orlando attorney John Morgan, who successfully backed the medical-marijuana amendment in 2016 and the minimum-wage amendment in 2020.

It remains unclear whether any citizens’ initiatives will reach the 2022 ballot. The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana use, saying the proposed ballot wording would have been misleading.

The committee supporting that proposal, known as Make It Legal Florida, had raised and spent about $8.2 million to try to get on the ballot, with almost all of the money coming from marijuana firms based in other states, according to state campaign finance information.

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