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PREGNANT PIG AMENDMENT TAKING EFFECT

The referendum sparked a sharp tightening of rules governing constitutional changes.
Published Nov. 3, 2008

TALLAHASSEE - The "pregnant pig" amendment Florida voters adopted six years ago finally goes into effect this week, but its most prominent and enduring role has been to help curtail citizen initiatives.

The amendment, which prohibits tying up or confining gestating sows in enclosures too small for them to turn around in, goes into effect Wednesday after an extended phase-in. Rather than change their ways, Florida's only two hog operations that would have been affected went out of business, said Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.

The 2002 amendment, sponsored by animal-rights groups, has become a rallying point for business interests, their allies in the Republican-controlled Legislature and others who want to make it harder to amend the Florida Constitution by petition.

"It's been a Pyrrhic victory," said University of Florida political scientist Dan Smith. "The pregnant pig and bullet train amendments have both been held up as symbols of how easy it is to amend the state Constitution."

In 2000, voters approved a high-speed rail line that would span the state. Four years later they repealed it as too costly.

The pregnant pig amendment, though, remains in the Constitution, readily available to be waved liked a bloody shirt by those who want to clamp down on citizen initiatives.

They have included then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who said in his 2003 State of the State address: "The bottom line is that pregnant pigs don't belong in our state Constitution."

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has led the lobbying effort in the Legislature. The chamber argues that special interests, backed by out-of-state donors, have hijacked the initiative process to buy their way into the Constitution by hiring paid petition gatherers.

The document establishing the fundamental principles of Florida's government and the rights of its citizens has been cluttered, initiative opponents say, with such unrelated provisions as, well, pregnant pigs.

On the other hand, petition drive sponsors argue they've had no other recourse because the Legislature has thwarted the will of the people by refusing to pass laws they obviously want. Florida has no similar petition process for passing laws.

Since the pig amendment, the Legislature has put up several barriers to amending the Constitution through petition drives. The new laws:

-Require state economists to write ballot statements saying how much they expect an initiative to cost taxpayers, if anything.

-Moved up the deadline for getting signatures verified by about six months to Feb. 1 of an election year.

-Let voters revoke their signatures. An appellate court has ruled this law unconstitutional, but an appeal is pending before the Florida Supreme Court.

-Allow businesses, including stores and shopping malls, to prohibit some petition drives on their property while allowing others at their choosing.

The Legislature also placed on the 2006 ballot an amendment requiring 60 percent approval for all future constitutional changes - not just initiatives - instead of a simple majority.

Voters adopted it by a 58 percent margin.