After Florida voters legalized medical marijuana and raised minimum wage, lawmakers look to rein in ballot initiatives

“A major constitutional right is being eliminated (under the proposal). Why?”

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVE DECKER
Photo by Dave Decker
In the latest chapter in years of battles about amending the Florida Constitution, a House panel Tuesday backed a proposal that would limit the subjects that could be included in ballot initiatives.

The proposal (HJR 1127) would limit citizens’ initiatives to “matters relating to procedural subjects or to the structure of the government or of this Constitution.”

Florida voters in recent years have approved high-profile initiatives about issues such as raising the minimum wage and broadly legalizing medical marijuana. Such initiatives would be barred in the future if the House proposal is ultimately approved.

Sponsor Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, said the Florida Constitution is a “revered document” that shouldn’t be used to decide policy issues that can be resolved in the Legislature.

“Things that are policy that can be addressed by the Legislature should be addressed by the Legislature,” Beltran said before the House Public Integrity & Elections Committee approved the measure.

But opponents said the proposal would take away the ability of citizens to make decisions. They also contend that groups have needed to use the initiative process because lawmakers have ignored the wishes of voters on policy issues.

“A major constitutional right is being eliminated (under the proposal). Why?” asked Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO. “The Constitution belongs to the people.”

Republican lawmakers and business groups have long supported efforts to make it harder to amend the Constitution. In 2006, for example, the Legislature successfully proposed a ballot measure that required 60 percent of voters to approve constitutional amendments, up from the previous simple majority.

Other changes made by the Legislature have included placing more requirements on petition gathering, which is a costly, time-consuming part of the initiative process.

Beltran said his proposal would allow initiatives to continue, though the subjects would be more restricted. As examples of the types of initiatives that would be allowed were past amendments that placed term limits on legislators and sought to prevent gerrymandering in redistricting, he said.

Rep. Spencer Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican who supported the proposal, said Florida is a constitutional republic, not a direct democracy, and also cited a 2002 constitutional amendment that dealt with the confinement of pregnant pigs.

“I think it dilutes the importance of the document when you have these frivolous things like pregnant pigs in the Florida Constitution,” Roach said.

But the proposal drew opposition from several groups Tuesday, including labor, environmental and civil-rights groups.

“This is about Floridians’ freedom to govern themselves,” Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, said.

If Beltran’s proposal passes the Legislature, it would go on the November ballot because it would require voter approval. Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, has filed an identical proposal (SJR 1412) in the Senate.