Power to the People

The power to propose the revision or amendment of any portion or portions of this constitution by initiative is reserved to the people, provided that, any such revision or amendment, except for those limiting the power of government to raise revenue, shall embrace but one subject and matter directly connected therewith. It may be invoked by filing with the custodian of state records a petition containing a copy of the proposed revision or amendment, signed by a number of electors in each of one half of the congressional districts of the state, and of the state as a whole, equal to eight percent of the votes cast in each of such districts respectively and in the state as a whole in the last preceding election in which presidential electors were chosen.

This clause, Article IX Section 3 of the Florida Constitution, has caused some consternation in Tallahassee over the years. Especially since 2002. That was the year Article X Section 21 passed, making it illegal “to confine a pig during pregnancy in an enclosure, or to tether a pig during pregnancy, on a farm in such a way that she is prevented from turning around freely.

That was also the year the Class Size and High Speed Rail amendments passed.

Ah. The people of the state decided they wanted to spend a lot of money to reduce both the size of classes and the time it takes to travel the state.

Shame on them. Or so the powers that be would say.

They were hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Flimflammed. Hornswaggled.

You see, it’s not the fault of the voters – they are victims. The problem clause was exploited by shady, shadowy, evil organizations trying to pull a fast one.

“Hello Pot? This is Kettle. You’re black.”

Cynical voters have often said the Legislature is dominated by special interest groups. I’m not sure I would go that far. However, the influence of some groups is higher than others – mostly because those groups’ positions on issues are shared by a majority of legislators.

Those groups who have less influence in Tallahassee have little recourse. They can appeal to the governor for vetoes, which has been a waste or time. They can sue in court, which is almost as vain. But the Florida Constitution provides another option – take the issue directly to the people.

It’s not easy. Eight percent of the votes cast in half of the Congressional Districts — more than half a million signatures on petitions. That takes an enormous effort. And it takes money.

But the process is left up to the Legislature. You know, the one under the influence of other special interest groups?

So, starting in 2003, business groups and Republican leaders have been fighting a battle to change the process. First, they passed a requirement that all initiatives have to have an economic impact statement. They reckoned voters wouldn’t pass another expensive amendment if they really knew how much it would cost.

Then they proposed to raise the threshold for passing amendments to the Florida Constitution. No longer would a simple majority do it, now it takes 60%. (The original attempt applied the new threshold only to initiatives, amendments proposed by the Legislature, the Constitution Revision Commission, or Tax and Budget Reform Commission would have been a majority. But the version that passed applies the new level to all amendments.)

Next, they moved the petition gathering date back from 90 days before the certification of the ballot to February 1st of the election year. They also said that a signed petition is only good for four years from the time of the signature.

This year, they made a couple more changes: paid gatherers will have to wear a button indicating that they are paid. Also people who sign petitions will be able to revoke their signatures. The Legislature also gave property owners the right to determine whether or not they allow petition gatherers on their property.

Most of these changes are easily acceptable. I’m not sure about the revocation clause.

You see, signed petitions are public records. That means anyone can obtain a copy. The petition requires name and address. So anyone that signs a petition will be mailed a revocation form from a special interest group. The battle will shift from the ballot to the petition process.

Heck, the Florida Chamber is already starting the battle.

Stop Hometown

You see, there is a really bad idea being pushed as a citizen initiative. It’s called Hometown Democracy. It will require voters to approve changes to the comprehensive plan — the overall plan for growth and land usage. The thinking is that requiring voters to approve changes will mean fewer changes and therefore less growth.

It really is a bad idea. Really.

They have almost 1/3rd of the petition signatures they need. I expect those 200,000 people will be getting a letter in the mail sometime this summer with a revocation letter. And then all the others who sign petitions will get letters too. In the end, Hometown Democracy may need to get 1 or 2 million people to sign, because the Chamber will work very hard to get all of their signatures revoked.

PEER Review gives some good advice about signing petitions. It shows the tactics used by some groups to get petitions signed. And groups that use these tactics deserve the disdain of everyone, not just groups who oppose them.

But the process remains an important way for groups of people to bypass an unresponsive Legislature. The Chamber and other groups should stop attacking the citizens initiative process.

No matter if another “pregnant pigs” amendment ends up in the Constitution.

About Jim Johnson

Editor and publisher of The State of Sunshine.
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3 Responses to Power to the People

  1. Rich says:


    While I understand your constitutional clarity on the revocation of signatures, this particular amendment, if passed in 2008, would ultimately KILL the economy of Florida by 2015. When I say kill, i mean kill. Our current nice unemployment rate of 3.4% would within a few years turn into 7.5% or more. Construction jobs, gone, consulting jobs, gone, planning jobs, gone, govt inspectors, reviewers, gone. And on and on and on.

    If this passed I would live in FL still waiting till the sh*t starts hitting the fan, and I would be off to Texas.

    Its ridiculous groups like the Sierra Club and others that actually wish humans should be living like animals, low population, in the wild, not disturbing one creature of any kind. All politics. I say good luck to the Florida Chamber in killing this dead.

    Remember, pregnant pigs, stupid, but will not destroy florida. Class size amendment, too much money, but will not destroy florida. Voting on every land use change so radical environmental groups can kill any new development, that would destroy florida.

  2. voxpop says:

    Dang Jim you were doing so well til right about the middle of this. (is this a pattern I am noticing?)

    i have a feeling that pregnant pig thing was a setup just like kelo v ct. And the repubs have been fighting the voters ever since…

    At any rate, what some seem to have a hard time remembering is that these idjits are supposed to be PROXIES of the people. Mere representatives. It’s US they should be representing. Not the developers. Not themselves and their interests. And then you have this guy http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070526/ap_on_re_us/texas_legislature refusing to resign … definite abuse of power and taxdollars. OUR money.
    I love how when Republicans do stuff like this that the MSM fails to identify them as Republicans. If this was a democrat or a green or a libertarian or an independent that would have preceded in capital letters.
    The little people ARE the voice not those suits that we don’t mind feeding a decent lunch to but want them to remember it really IS just a job. Not their ascendancy.

  3. Jim Johnson says:

    Rich – I agree that it’s a bad idea. I don’t think it will get 60% to pass it, if it even gets on the ballot. My problem is when groups say “You shouldn’t exploit one Constitutional process because we are already exploiting another.”

    Vox – The Hometown Democracy proposal is such a bad idea. Bad. Bad. Bad. But I support the process completely.

    It’s like the first amendment for me. The process is more important than the subject. I will not sign a Hometown Democracy petition and will tell others not to as well. If it gets on the ballot, I will campaign against it.

    But we have to support our rights and point out when people – legislators or special interest groups – threaten to take those rights away.

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