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Gov. Ron DeSantis hints at more crack downs on constitutional amendments in Florida

He suggests changes to the Florida Constitution should get their own elections.
SCOTT KEELER   |   Times

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis answers reporters questions after the 60 day legislative session ended, Saturday, May 4, 2019.
SCOTT KEELER | Times Florida Governor Ron DeSantis answers reporters questions after the 60 day legislative session ended, Saturday, May 4, 2019.
Published Jun. 12, 2019|Updated Jun. 14, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday suggested he wants to make it even harder to change Florida’s constitution, even after signing into law a bill that already makes big changes to citizen-driven ballot initiatives.

“I think it’s a good first step,” he said of the bill he signed last week, which imposes restrictions on who can collect ballots, how those people are paid and how the ballots are collected. “But I think we need to do more than just that.”

DeSantis, who was speaking a health care bill signing in Jacksonville, suggested one option would be for constitutional amendments to be voted on during their own elections.

DeSantis said he was frustrated by the length of the ballots voters saw in November. In addition to his own race for governor and the U.S. Senate race, there were 12 proposed amendments to the state’s constitution.

“One thing we may look at doing is, if we’re going to do these amendments, maybe have those be standalone elections,” he said. “Yeah, maybe it would cost a little more money for the state, but at least people would know when they’re going, that’s the reason I’m going.”

That idea, if implemented before the 2020 presidential election, would potentially kneecap two proposed amendments that are deeply unpopular with major Republican donors. One would raise the state’s minimum wage, and the other would allow consumers to choose their electricity provider.

The backers of those amendments are hoping to get them on the 2020 ballot, when voter turnout is expected to be high. Giving amendments their own elections would virtually ensure lower voter turnout.

The legislation DeSantis signed last week imposed the toughest restrictions in years on signature-gatherers. They’re usually paid by backers of amendments for each Floridians’ signature they collect.

The new law requires them to be paid by the hour instead. It also requires them to register with the Secretary of State and quickly turn their signatures in to local supervisors of election. It also includes requirements about what voters are told about proposed amendments.

The bill, which was revived and passed in the closing hours of this year’s legislative session, came after voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment last year that allowed felons to vote.

DeSantis, who did not speak about the bill after signing it last week, said Wednesday that the new laws are meant to protect Floridians from “out-of-state special interests.”

“It’s a major cottage industry funded by special interests,” he said. “This is not supposed to be driven by out-of-state special interests. It’s supposed to be driven by Floridians."

He did not say which amendments he was referring to. The minimum wage proposal is backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan, for example.

DeSantis himself, however, supported the Marsy’s Law amendment last year, which created rights for crime victims.

The amendment was placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, and not by citizen petitions. But it was spearheaded by a California billionaire whose sister, Marsy Nicholas, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983, and the PAC spent $33 million in Florida last year trying to convince voters to approve it.

“Right now, you just have one guy write a check and you pay these people per signature, it creates a lot of bad incentives," he said. "So I think it’s a better system now, but I absolutely think we need real serious reform with how we do constitutional amendments here.”

Clarification: Marsy’s Law was placed on the ballot by the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, and not by citizen petitions. An earlier version of this story was unclear on that point.


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