House Proposes Changes To Citizens' Initiative Process

Jan 16, 2020

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, listens to the debate on his sponsored felon voting rights bill during session Wednesday April 24, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Credit Steve Cannon / AP Photo

A bill that could make it harder for citizens to amend the state constitution is moving forward. Republicans say it ensures voters know who’s behind the proposals and what the amendments would do.

Rep. James Grant (Tampa-R) says knowing how much an amendment would cost is a big part of understanding it.

"I happen to believe that it’s important that when people are amending the Florida Constitution that they are told what kind of fiscal impact that proposal will have. They should be warned that a tax increase may be required, they should be warned that a reduction to services might happen because we fortunately live in a state whose constitution requires a balanced budget,” said Grant.

Grant is behind a committee bill that makes several changes to how citizens initiatives get on the ballot. One change requires the Florida Estimating Impact Conference to estimate the impact on the state budget and revenues or costs to state and local governments.

The bill also changes how long a signature collected for a citizens’ initiative is good for.

“We provide that signatures are valid til the next February 1, of an even numbered next year,” explained Grant.

Grant thinks the move makes since because people’s thoughts change.

“If somebody wants to amend the constitution in a subsequent election cycle they need to go out and get a new signature from that applicant attesting that that applicant still believes in that,” said Grant.

But Rich Templin with the Florida AFL-CIO, thinks the proposed changes make it harder for citizens to change the constitution. He says he remembers a similar thing happening in the past.

“You know when the voters approved higher minimum wage indexed to inflation. The Chamber of Commerce made it its number one legislative priority to gut the citizens’ initiative process. And for the next five years over 160 bills were authored to gut the citizens’ initiative process,” explained Templin.

Templin says although not all of the bills passed the work had been done.

“We shortened from 8 years to 2 years the lifespan of a petition no one can collect those with volunteers any longer. Because as soon as you spend a couple years collecting and building and working up your movement and your campaign you’ve got to start all over again,” said Templin.

Lawmakers passed new rules last year about who can be a petition gatherer and how they can be paid. Templin says Grants’ bill would make getting proposals on the ballot even harder.

“And now we look at this package in front of us. What does it do? Once again it shortens the lifespans on signatures. That means more money more paid signature gatherers, only the millionaires and billionaires can be a part of it,” said Templin.

Templin believes the measure makes it so difficult that the only true reason for it could be to stop citizens’ initiatives altogether.

“If that’s the motivation behind this bill, then don’t kill the citizens’ initiatives by 1000 paper cuts. Put it on the ballot. Go to the voters and say do you want to give up your right to amend your constitution through initiative,” said Templin.

Aventura Democrat Joe Geller agrees with Templin, "However it may be well intentioned, it is the wrong solution to the wrong problem."

The measure advanced on a 12 to 6 vote split by party lines.