OUR POSITION: The Florida Legislature wants to make it even tougher for the public to bring potential amendments to the state constitution to a vote.
As a general rule, we have never liked the idea of amending Florida’s constitution. The public’s ability to do so is taken advantage of almost every election year through petitions calling for a particular new law to be placed on the ballot. If 60 percent or more of the voters approve the new law, it is tacked onto the constitution.
Our belief has been, with a few rare exceptions, Florida’s elected lawmakers have the responsibility to listen to their constituents and pass new laws that may be needed. It is usually when voters are frustrated with the Legislature that they take it upon themselves to petition Tallahassee to pass an amendment.
Under the present system, it takes about 800,000 signatures on a petition to get the question on the ballot. Then, at least 60 percent of voters must agree with the proposal to amend the constitution.
Some issues that have become law after inaction by the Legislature include the approval of medical marijuana and, just last year, allowing ex-felons who did not commit violent or sexual crimes to vote once they have served their sentence.
The Legislature can, and has, continued to make it difficult to put those laws into practice. It took a new governor to allow smoking medical marijuana. And during the current session, legislators are trying to vote in obstacles to deny ex-felons voting rights.
The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee has unveiled a bill that would tack on new restrictions to voters who would attempt to add amendments to the constitution. The bill would require, first of all, that anyone gathering signatures to the petition register with the Department of State and that they must be a Florida resident. That would hamper organizations who recruit people outside of Florida to come here and stand on street corners and in front of government buildings to get signatures.
Also, it asks that language be included in the petition outlining a percentage of money contributed by Florida residents to get the proposal on the ballot and whether or not the law could be enacted by the Legislature without amending the constitution.
Furthermore, the Secretary of State would have to build a website where anyone can post a statement for or against the proposal. But, those statements would not be limited to Floridians. And, finally, those pushing for the proposal would not be allowed to pay workers by the number of signatures they gather.
The door would remain open to get proposals on the ballot, but those doing so would have to rise to a new level of dedication to get it done. Most of the new restrictions, if they are put into law, would be more of an annoyance than a block to amending the constitution.
With all the more serious issues such as healthcare, school budgets, arming teachers and water quality on lawmakers’ agenda this year, we believe this sort of obstructionism is not needed. It speaks to the frustration of Democrats who find it difficult to get their voice heard during the 20-year stranglehold Republicans have on the Legislature.
We suggest lawmakers move on to more urgent matters.