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State Economist Amy Baker Explains New Review Process For Ballot Initiatives

Amy Baker, Director of the Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research, discusses issues regarding slot machines during a meeting of the House Business Regulation committee, Thursday, March 10, 2005, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Phil Coale
AP Photo

Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research known as EDR is tasked with predicting outcomes of proposed legislation, new laws, or constitutional amendments. But a new law has now changed how much work goes into predicting petition initiatives. EDR’s Coordinator Amy Baker spoke about what the changes mean.

Since 2004, EDR has looked at the financial impact a petition initiative would have if it were to pass. Amy Baker says that’s now been changed, "during this session, the legislature passed House bill 5 which said in addition to looking at local government and state revenues and costs, we want you to perform an economic analysis of the impact the amendment will have.”

The new law made the review process a lot longer. What used to take maybe one meeting now takes several. And, there are more constitutional amendment proposals this year.

"For the first time, we’re not looking at just government impacts, we’re having to consider private sector impacts or household impacts. So that’s a bigger scope than we ever had," explained Baker. "And luck of the draw, we’ve ended up with four overlapping petition initiatives that we’re reviewing and we expect to get a fifth one any moment now."

In order to trigger an EDR study, a petition must reach 10% of the statewide requirement in at least 25% of Florida’s congressional districts. That comes to 76,000 signatures. The office gets 75 days to do the job. And Baker says the first step is for the staff to do a literature review.

"They're looking at have other states had an analysis or study having enacted something similar or is there economic journals that have articles on pieces of what we’re looking at," explained Baker. "So on the front end we’re doing a pretty big literature review to begin with."

The next step is to gather input from stakeholders during a public conference, during this time anyone can provide information they believe necessary to the group.

"We’re trying to get as much comment and testimony before us to kind of tell us what people are thinking and about what their key issues are what they’re hearing. And then bring all that together and we really start working more formally as we go through the remaining conferences," said Baker.

In those remaining conferences, the group uses what they learn to determine the financial impact on the state budget and the state and local economy. If they determine a positive or negative impact, then it must be included on the ballot so that voters will know. 

After EDR finishes with the petition initiative the Supreme Court reviews it to see whether or not it passes their muster.

“They’re looking at is the ballot summary a fair representation of what the amendment is doing you know does it violate a single subject provision that they have,” said Baker.

Currently, EDR is reviewing 4 initiatives; an assault weapon ban, Medicaid for eligible low-income adults, one that would open primary elections to all voters regardless of party affiliation and another that would require voters to be US Citizens that are 18 and over.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.