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Campaigns short on signatures

The deadline for turning in half a million signatures to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot is near. And that's bad news for several activist groups.

Anti-immigration measures, a ban on public campaign financing, an amendment that would strengthen property rights and one that would require inmates to serve most of their sentences have fallen far short of the signature requirement.

The only petition drive that has secured a spot on the ballot is an anti-tax measure. Another one, to tax sugar for an Everglades cleanup, also is in the running

In the past 20 years, just 10 citizen initiatives have made it to the ballot. Far more common are constitutional amendments that lawmakers place on the ballot.

This year, groups that want to change the Florida Constitution have to collect 429,428 verified signatures by Aug. 6 and win approval by the state Supreme Court, which reviews for clarity all proposed amendments backed by petition drives.

"It's just a huge requirement," said David Biddulph, leader of the Tax Cap Committee, which has won a ballot spot for a proposal that would require a two-thirds vote by the electorate to add any tax or fee to the state Constitution.

Three other Tax Cap proposals clearly won't make the 1996 ballot, Biddulph said Thursday.

One would require voter approval of all new taxes. Another would strengthen property rights. The third would make it easier to add a property rights provision to the state Constitution.

Tax Cap has collected just 60,000 signatures for the three proposals and has yet to go before Florida's high court. Biddulph said volunteers would collect signatures on Election Day 1996 to make the 1998 ballot.

Like Tax Cap, a victims' right group pushing an amendment to keep prisoners behind bars longer also plans to go before voters, even though this year is out.

"This will be on the ballot in '98," Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells, founder of Stop Turning Out Prisoners, said Thursday.

STOP won the necessary court approval last fall for a constitutional amendment that would require all inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

The state Division of Elections, however, has been notified of fewer than 138,000 verified signatures. Wells said volunteers would take advantage of voter turnout this Election Day to collect signatures.

State legislators last year passed a law requiring inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentences. But STOP leaders said they wanted the permanency of a constitutional change.

Two groups pushed proposals that would deny services to illegal immigrants. But neither Save Our State nor the FLA-187 Committee came close to meeting the 429,428-signature requirement.

The state had word of just 2,107 signatures for Save Our State and 8,644 for the FLA-187 Committee.

A group known as the Citizens for Campaign and Government Spending Reform announced in January that it wanted to ban the use of state tax money to fund political campaigns. The state had word of just 33,528 signatures this month.

The outlook is far brighter for Save Our Everglades, but the group has two hurdles to clear in order to get voters to vote on a penny-per-pound tax on sugar.

The group said it turned in more than 730,000 signatures this month and expected the names to be verified by the Aug. 6 deadline, despite a court challenge from the sugar industry, which asked supervisors to stop counting the petitions.

"We've been assured by the major counties that they will be able to certify all of our petitions," said campaign director Robin Rorapaugh.

The state Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for its review of the Save Our Everglades petitions Aug. 29.

The group is backing three related amendments. One would levy the penny-per-pound tax on raw sugar grown in the agricultural area south of Lake Okeechobee. Another sets up a trust fund for the money to be deposited in. A third directs that polluters in the area pay for the Everglades cleanup.

Guaranteed amendments

Three constitutional amendments are guaranteed to go before voters this November, including one anti-tax measure pushed by petition drive and two others put on the ballot by lawmakers.

TAX LIMITATION: Prohibits imposition of new state taxes or fees on or after Nov. 8, 1994, by constitutional amendment unless approved by two-thirds of the voters voting in the election.

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION: Proposes changing from 1998 to 1997 the convening of the next Constitution Revision Commission; removing the restriction upon the commission's authority to examine matters relating to taxation or the state budgetary process that are otherwise to be reviewed by the Taxation and Budgetary Reform Commission every 10 years.

JUDICIARY: Proposing amendments to allow judicial nominating commissions to recommend from three up to six persons to fill a court vacancy; and to restructure the Judicial Qualifications Commission and permit additional sanctions for judicial misconduct.

_ Associated Press

Longshot amendments

Here's a look at the proposed constitutional amendments that are not headed for the November ballot.

TAXES AND PROPERTY RIGHTS: Backers admit that three amendment drives _ to require voter approval of all new taxes, strengthen property rights and make it easier to add a property rights provision to the Constitution _ are dead for this year. They say they'll keep working.

STOP: A proposed amendment to keep prisoners behind bars longer is short on signatures. Backers are shooting for '98.

IMMIGRATION: Save Our State and the FLA-187 Committee, both of which would deny services to illegal immigrants, are failing badly.

CAMPAIGN FUNDING: A proposed ban on the use of state tax money to fund political campaigns is falling far short.