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Coalition battles proposal to rein in citizen initiatives

A new coalition has declared war on a campaign to make it more difficult to amend the Florida Constitution.

The group, Hands off Florida, opposes Amendment 2, which Florida lawmakers placed on the Nov. 2 ballot with the Florida Chamber of Commerce's backing.

The proposal would require citizen initiatives to be filed by February before a scheduled November election instead of August and gives the Supreme Court until April 1 to review each petition.

"Amendment 2 is a thinly veiled attack on voters by wealthy special interests" and "a power grab by legislators and the state's business lobby to maintain power in Tallahassee," says the group, chaired by Rick Sheppard, a West Palm Beach businessman.

Amending the Constitution is the only way residents can get around a Legislature that refuses to address important issues, the coalition contends.

The group includes the League of Women Voters, the ACLU, Common Cause, the American Lung Association of Florida and others who have frequently clashed with state lawmakers in trying to pass legislation.

"We think citizen participation is critical in a democracy," said Larry Spalding, ACLU spokesman.

A spokeswoman for VoteSmartFlorida.org, which was formed by the Florida chamber to rein in the amendment process, said the measure would improve the ability of voters to learn more about a ballot issue before they vote.

Amendments proposed by the Legislature would not have to meet the new deadlines.

Backers of citizen initiatives would still have up to four years to collect the necessary signatures.

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