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Citizens initiatives can be used to pass rules that don't pass in the legislature. Some lawmakers want that to stop

Florida's Historic Capital building glows orange at night. The new Capital building rises behind it as the sunset fades.
Erich Martin
Used with permission
A bill that would limit citizens initiatives now has one committee stop left in the Senate.

Citizens initiatives are one of five ways Florida’s constitution can be changed. But some lawmakers say they think citizens are using the process to route around the legislature.

“Citizens initiatives have morphed from being sparingly used to being used on every ballot to add to the constitution a measure that may not have gotten passed in the legislature,” said Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary).

Brodeur says he thinks constitutional amendments should be limited to the procedure and structure of government. He has a bill to do just that, but some lawmakers say they think the measure is disingenuous

“Why don’t you just call it what it is? Citizen initiatives passed that we don’t like and we are trying to stop that from happening,” said Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando).

Bracy says under the rules in Brodeur’s bill, citizens initiatives he’s supported in the past would not have been allowed. Karen Woodall an activist and executive director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy says she’s been involved in the legislative process for decades. She says she’s seen firsthand the important role citizens initiatives play in helping to move issues forward that are important to the public. She gives the example of the minimum wage increase that voters added to the state constitution in 2020 through a citizens initiative. It requires the state’s minimum wage to gradually increase to $15 per hour by the year 2026.

“I have been involved, early on in the 80s and going into the 90s in trying to pass a minimum wage increase through this legislative body. Year after year, Senator Jack Gordon from Miami Beach filed the bill for many years. Mike Freedman, down in Miami filed the bill. We could not, even though many, many people supported it and as you’ve seen it passed as a constitutional amendment, could not get the legislature to pass it,” Woodall said.

Advocates says the citizens initiative process is an important way to ensure Floridians voices are heard and works as a check on the legislature. But Brodeur says a check already exists since voters have the chance to remove lawmakers from office each time they come up for reelection. He said he thinks citizens initiatives are unduly influenced by out-of-state organizations and don’t get the same level of vetting as measures put forward by lawmakers.

“How often do you think a citizen would look at an initiative like this and talk for as long as we have about it. Now multiple that by times that 4,000 bills we see every session. That is what they have elected us to do, to dig into all of those issues,” Brodeur said. “That is not something that is the obligation of a citizen in a Republic. They have a job that they need to do. They go to work every day and they elect us to go look at all this stuff to make the right decisions for the community and every two to four years, depending on what office you’re in, they have the opportunity to review whether or not we did a good job based on what they would like.”

Brodeur’s bill appears to be on a fast track. It did have three committee stops to go through, but Friday one committee was removed from its schedule, leaving the Senate bill with just one committee review left to go before it heads for the Senate floor. Meanwhile, a similar bill in the House is ready for a floor discussion. Since the bill would amend the state constitution it needs approval from three-fifths of the lawmakers in each chamber. Then it will head to the 2022 ballot where at least 60 percent of voters would need to approve the change for it to become law.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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