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Amendment plan takes shape

Published Apr. 24, 2004|Updated Aug. 27, 2005

Constitutional amendments would have to receive at least 60 percent of the vote to be approved under a proposal tentatively agreed upon Friday by the House.

But it appears voters won't be asked to make it harder to amend the Constitution until the general election in November. House leaders said they doubt they have enough votes to place the proposal on the Aug. 31 primary ballot as the Senate wants.

"We're not going to spend a lot of the public's time in the last week of session where the outcome is a foregone conclusion," said Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, the sponsor of the amendment changes in the House.

Aside from when voters will consider the changes, the House and the Senate are close to agreeing on how to make it tougher to amend the Constitution.

The other changes, which also require voter approval, include applying the same approval standards to amendments proposed by the Legislature as citizen initiatives and changing deadlines for paperwork.

Making it more difficult to amend the Constitution is one of the highest priorities for Gov. Jeb Bush and the business community, led by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Pickens was cautiously optimistic that voters would approve the changes.

"It's a long road from April to November," he said. "I'm optimistic that they (voters) will believe that the measures we're proposing to them are the right thing to do."

During debate Friday, House Republicans cited the 2002 citizen initiative that amended the state Constitution to ban caging pregnant pigs as an example of a system they say is out of control.

But Democrats said the changes will thwart the public's opportunity to have a voice on issues the Legislature has ignored. They cited the smoking ban and class size amendments that voters approved in 2002.

"The problem is not that it is too easy to amend the Constitution," said Rep. Stacy Ritter, D-Tamarac. "The problem is that there's no other route for people to take when they feel legislators aren't listening."

Public interest groups have vowed to campaign against changes, telling voters the Legislature is trying to strip them of power without giving them an alternative to amend government policy, such as a petition process to write state law.

"They're creating a nightmare for citizens who want to reform their government," said Susie Caplowe, a Sierra Club lobbyist. "All of these together will choke off the citizens initiative."

Before Friday, Pickens and House leadership had pushed to ask voters to require a 60 percent approval only for citizen initiatives.

Senate sponsors said that would be hard to sell to voters and proposed extending that standard to constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature. The House agreed Friday.

Another compromise: House sponsors agreed with the Senate to ask voters to set an earlier deadline for paperwork for citizen initiatives. The House agreed to a deadline of Feb. 1 before a November general election (SJR 2394).

Petitions now must be filed 91 days before a general election.

Still unclear, however, is whether the Senate will embrace the House's effort to shorten the amount of time organizers have to gather signatures.

The Senate has proposed no changes to the current four-year window while the House has proposed cutting it to two years.

Whether to give the Florida Supreme Court more authority to reject citizen initiatives as inappropriate for the Constitution remains a sticking point.

The Senate proposes giving the court authority to reject any measure that does not address constitutional issues, government structure or basic rights.

The House's proposal appears more sweeping, giving the court the authority to strike anything that the Legislature could address in general law.

The House also is expected seek a requirement that citizen initiatives costing more than $1 per Florida resident identify a tax source to pay for it. But Senate leaders have been cool to the idea.


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