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Voter Groups Call Bill the ‘Final Nail in the Coffin’ for Citizens Initiatives

February 6th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

 

Florida voters won’t see recreational marijuana or an assault weapons ban on the ballot this year due to new restrictions on paid petition gatherers passed in 2019.

“It’s unfortunate that the Legislature wants to muzzle its fellow citizens,” said Gail Schwartz, Chair of Ban Assault Weapons NOW.

Citizen initiatives are once again the target of a bill moving through the Florida Legislature.

The legislation would make amending the constitution even harder by requiring campaigns pay the full cost of counting petitions, currently they pay 10 cents a petition.

It also dramatically raises the threshold to trigger a review by the State Supreme Court from 10 percent of the required 766,000 petitions to 50 percent.

Petitions will also expire faster.

Currently signatures are valid for two years from the date they were signed, but the legislation would mandate all signatures be rendered invalid on February 1st of every even numbered year.

The bill also will require the Attorney General to ask the State Supreme Court to determine whether proposed amendments violate the US Constitution.

Currently the court is only required to determine if the ballot language is misleading or contains more than one subject.

Bill sponsor Representative James Grant isn’t hiding his intent.

He believes it’s too easy to amend the state constitution.

“Our charter liberties should be protected in a constitution. It should be clear. It should be unambiguous. It should be difficult to amend,” said Grant speaking at the bill’s final House Committee stop.

During the hearing the bill faced almost unanimous opposition from a wide range of groups.

“These will strip away the constitution from the hands of the people and into the hands of millionaires, corporations and dark money,” said Ida Eskamani with the New Florida Majority.

“Elected officials should be protecting constitutional rights not restricting them,” said Kara Gross with the ACLU.

But it passed on a party line vote.

Grant said the bill isn’t retroactive, so signatures already gathered for the recreational marijuana and assault weapons ban initiatives would still be valid for the 2022 ballot.

“You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game, so those petitions that have been previously collected will be covered by the law at the time they were collected,” said Grant.

But those heavily involved in the citizen initiative process like Aliki Moncrief with the Florida Conservation Voters assert for future grassroots campaigns, the challenges the legislation will pose will be insurmountable.
“This bill really represents the final nail in the coffin for citizens’ initiatives when it comes to every day people, small organizations actually being able to have their voice heard,” said Moncrief.

The bill is ready for the House floor, but still has two more stops in the Senate.

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