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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: Hey voters, Tallahassee wants to stiff you again

Published Feb. 28, 2017

Remember that kid from the old neighborhood?

The one who could never lose gracefully? When a game was over, he would always complain something wasn't fair, and if the rules weren't changed he was going home.

You know what you call that kid today?

A state legislator.

Because it sure seems as if lawmakers have a wicked childish streak in them whenever they don't get their way.

When laws are ruled unconstitutional in court, they complain about activist judges and threaten legislation aimed at the judiciary. And when citizens bypassed Tallahassee a decade ago with constitutional amendments about the minimum wage and class sizes, lawmakers made it harder to pull off citizen initiatives in the future.

And now they're back at it.

Having been schooled in recent years by voters on amendments involving redistricting, Everglades conservation and medical marijuana, the Florida Legislature is trying to change the rules again.

A joint resolution (HJR 321) was approved last week by a House subcommittee for a plan that would raise the threshold for passing constitutional amendments from 60 to 66.67 percent of the vote.

They're doing it, they said, to preserve the integrity of the Constitution. Which is sort of like your spouse eating the entire bag of Doritos because they say they want to protect you from getting fat.

We've got a lot of problems in Florida, but citizen petitions are not high among them.

First, a little history.

Since 2006, there have been 38 proposed amendments. That does seem like a lot of tinkering with an important document. But you have to look a little closer. Citizen petitions accounted for only nine of the 38 amendments. The Legislature was responsible for 25, and the state's Taxation and Budget Reform Commission provided the other four.

In other words, if anybody is trying to mess with the Constitution, it's the very people who are complaining about all the revising going on.

What's really happening is lawmakers are trying to make it harder for you to have a say in how the state is run. Voters have had success with three pretty important constitutional amendments lately, and legislators don't like it.

How do we know this?

Because they refused to pass popular bills in the first place. And once voters were forced to take it into their own hands to demand action, lawmakers refused to follow the actual language of the amendments that passed.

They didn't draw fair voting districts, and the League of Women Voters eventually had to sue. They also haven't provided extra money for conservation land, and they're putting more restrictions on medical marijuana production than the amendment says.

For people who are so dadgum patriotic about the Constitution, they seem to have a relaxed approach about their own responsibility.

And just so you know, this isn't a partisan crusade. At least not yet.

When it went before the Oversight, Transparency and Administration subcommittee last week, it passed 14-0, with nine Republicans and five Democrats voting in favor.

Fortunately, this still has a long way to go. Even if it makes out of the Legislature, it will be put in front of voters who would have to pass it, ironically enough, with 60 percent of the vote.

And, to be honest, the idea behind the resolution has some merit. It should be difficult to change a state constitution. But guess what — it already is.

It takes more than 750,000 signatures on a petition just to get a citizen amendment on the ballot. And the threshold was already raised from 50 percent to 60 percent in 2006.

So here's a better idea:

If lawmakers are unhappy with voters going over their head, maybe they should listen a little more closely to what citizens are requesting.