In Florida, ballot initiatives are a meaningful way for residents to pass laws that, often for political reasons, our legislators refuse to take up. Recently, however, there has been action by decision makers to limit this important tool of our democracy.
The Florida legislature is currently working to pass a bill that would implement new criteria for citizen-led ballot initiative campaigns. The major changes, should HB 7111/SPB 7096 pass, include:
Increase the approval needs to a 66% majority vote vs the current 60
Increase pay rates for signature gatherers
Include the name of the initiative’s sponsor on the ballot
Disclose the percent of money raised by sources in-state
Print in bold “may increase taxes”
Print the Supreme Court’s ruling determining whether the proposed amendment could be carried out by the legislature
Allow for interested parties to weigh in and file a position statement (either good or bad) available on the Department of State’s website
Critics argue that these new requirements are designed to impede the ability of citizens to launch campaigns and make voters less likely to vote for them.
Displeasure with the success of Amendment 4 on the 2018 ballot is a significant reason for these proposed changes. The amendment, which reinstates previously convicted felons’ voting rights in Florida, was passed with 63 % of vote. Floridians resoundingly demonstrated their belief that prior felons should be able to vote again once they fully served their time. Despite the strong public support, the amendment would likely never have become law without a citizen’s ballot initiative. Under HB 7111/SPB 7096, Amendment 4 would have faced even more challenges. Something that future worthwhile initiatives might not be able to overcome.
The proposed deterrents could deny progress and equal opportunity for many Floridians, and ultimately make it near impossible for voters’ voices to be directly heard. Furthermore, diminishing the power that rests with the people will likely result in less representation, the opposite of what the legislature is supposed to be doing.
HB 7111/SPB 7096 are still moving through the legislative process, but it isn’t the only example of the legislature thwarting the will of the people. The legislature has ignored implementation of past approved amendments (such as medical marijuana). It is clear that legislators think they know what is best and have stopped listening. This needs to change.