Florida residency would not be a requirement to collect petition signatures for proposed constitutional amendments, but House members moved forward Thursday with a measure that critics say would make it harder to pass citizens’ initiatives.
The measure (HB 7111), approved in a 15-8 vote by the State Affairs Committee, would require petition-gatherers to be registered with the state, to list permanent and temporary addresses and to sign sworn statements that they will obey state laws and rules.
Also, under the measure, ballots would have to include information about contributions raised by amendment sponsors, whether out-of-state petition circulators were used and whether amendments could lead to tax increases.
Bill sponsor James Grant, R-Tampa, said the intent is to protect the state Constitution, a document he called “sacred.”
“Under current law, a single billionaire from anywhere in the world can lead the charge to amend the Florida Constitution,” Grant said. “The very essence of this is to ensure that there is complete transparency over the charter for Florida’s liberties.”
The effort to change the ballot-initiative process comes after voters approved 11 constitutional amendments in November, including two amendments placed on the ballot by groups that collected petition signatures.
Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, said the House bill would create more hurdles for people trying to put issues on the ballot. She said citizens’ initiatives wouldn’t be necessary if the Legislature followed the wishes of Floridians.
“If we were doing things like passing Medicaid expansion and preserving the land, and doing these things, then maybe we wouldn’t have the need for constitutional amendments,” Good said.
Jonathan Webber of the Florida Conservation Voters told the committee the initiative process should remain immune to day-to-day politics.
“The Legislature does not have the right to hinder the right of the people to propose amendments to our Constitution,” Webber said. “The initiative process is our tool. It belongs to us.”
Bill proponents contend special interest groups, and people recruited by special interest groups, have abused the process. Grant said the proposal is aimed at reducing “fraud” and is needed as the Constitution has become a “secondary place for statutes to be made.”
The bill initially included a Florida residency requirement for paid petition gatherers, a proposal also included in a similar measure (SB 7096) that has been moving forward in the Senate.
But the committee Thursday approved removing the residency requirement from the House bill, with Grant saying there are differing legal opinions about such a rule.
The House proposal also would include a series of other requirements for the initiative process. For example, it would require signed petitions to be delivered to the local supervisor of elections within 10 days or they would become invalid.
As another example, it would require the secretary of state to post on the Department of State’s website anyone’s position statements on initiatives — up to 50 words expressing support or opposition.
— News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.