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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Bennett calls SB216 a 'mistake'



With the Hometown Democracy ballot initiative on the horizon, state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, wants to undo a law that prohibits local governments from spending tax money to influence the outcome of ballot referendums.

"I'm going to file a bill overturning it," said Bennett, the chairman of the Senate Community Affairs Committee. "I think I made a serious mistake voting for that."

His comments came as Florida Association of Counties lobbyist John Wayne Smith presented the group's priorities for the 2010 legislative session. Smith said Senate Bill 216 (sponsored by state Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, and signed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009) went too far.

Smith said he worries the new law could prevent county and city officials from commenting on ballot referendums or passing resolutions about them. Of particular concern: Amendment 4, the controversial Hometown Democracy initiative. Smith said the law might also limit the association's ability to oppose the the 2010 ballot referendum because counties provide the bulk of the association's funding through tax dollars.

State Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, defended the new law, saying it's intent -- to prevent tax dollars from being used to support or oppose a political causes -- did not limit speech. "We are not infringing on anyone's free speech rights to speak on an issue," he said. "I think it was the right thing to do."

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 1:14pm]


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