To Thwart Fraud, Florida GOP Legislature Makes Petition Gathering Harder

By JIM TURNER AND DARA KAM NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Solar group gathers petitions in 2015

Solar group gathers petitions in 2015

A measure intended to make it harder for citizens’ initiatives to reach the ballot is heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis, after proposed petition-gathering rules were tacked onto a bill in the waning hours of the last full day of the legislative session.

The House added the petition-gathering restrictions to a bill focused on local sales taxes (HB 5) and sent it to the Senate on Friday evening. The Senate then approved it, though a separate bill that included petition-gathering restrictions failed to make it through the Senate committee process during the session.

The petition-gathering process plays a crucial role in placing citizens’ initiatives on the ballot. Democrats argued that groups turn to amending the Constitution because the Legislature often ignores the wishes of voters on issues, as evidenced by ballot drives in recent years that broadly legalized medical marijuana and restored felons’ voting rights.

David Simmons

David SimmonsBut Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the changes were critical because the ballot-initiative process is being “hijacked” by out-of-state interests. Supporters of the bill say it would help combat fraud in the petition-gathering process, which Simpson alleged is “pervasive all across the nation.”

“States have attempted to try to deal with it. Counties have attempted to deal with it, and the state of Florida is looking at, in this legislation, the same thing other states have done and the courts have approved, to ensure the integrity of the process,” Simmons, a lawyer, argued.

The bill would make a series of changes in laws dealing with initiatives, such as making it illegal to pay petition gatherers based on the number of petitions they collect. Also, for example, it would require submission of information about petition gatherers, including their permanent and temporary addresses, and would require the gatherers to sign sworn statements that they will follow state laws and rules.

The bill also would require petitions to be turned into county supervisors of elections no more than 30 days after being signed by voters and includes penalties of up to $50 for each late submission. Fines could grow to $1,000 for any petition “willfully” not submitted on time.

Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, expressed concerns that college students hired to collect signatures could end up with criminal records, a possibility he called “awful.”

“We’re going to do this on the 60th day (of session), at night, to limit the ability of a citizens’ initiative, which is the greatest thing that our state can do,” Rader argued. “What have the citizens done that has been so awful and so bad? … You still have to get 60 percent on the ballot to pass. And I’ve told a lot of people, passing something with 60 percent is a landslide in this state.”

Petition signatures already collected for the 2020 initiatives would not be affected, but the changes would go into effect 30 days after the bill becomes law, if DeSantis signs it or allows it become law without his signature.

The bill, which the Senate approved in a 22-17 party-line vote and the House approved 67-43, came after Florida voters in November approved 11 constitutional amendments on issues ranging from restoring felons’ voting rights to banning greyhound racing. Two of the measures were placed on the ballot through petition drives, while the rest were put before voters by the Legislature or the state Constitution Revision Commission.

A series of high-profile ballot initiatives also have been proposed for the 2020 ballot, including proposals to raise the minimum wage, expand Medicaid eligibility, ban assault-style weapons and deregulate the electric utility system — issues widely opposed by Republican leaders.

“Their relentless efforts to shut down citizens’ rights to participate in the political process are unconstitutional, undemocratic and just wrong,” Citizens for Energy Choices Chairman Alex Patton, whose group is behind the utility deregulation proposal, said in a text on Friday.

A wide range of opponents, including electric utilities, business groups, lawmakers and the state Public Service Commission are trying to block the deregulation amendment at the Florida Supreme Court.

Supporters of the bill that passed Friday contend the Constitution has become bloated with issues that don’t belong in the foundation of state government.

“Thank you to the Florida Legislature for protecting Florida’s Constitution from out-of-state special interests and returning the process back to Florida citizens,” the Florida Chamber of Commerce tweeted after the vote.

To get on the ballot, initiative backers will have to submit 766,200 valid petition signatures to the state and get approval from the Florida Supreme Court for the proposed ballot wording. If measures go before voters in November 2020, they will need to receive approval from at least 60 percent of voters to pass.

Comments

PermalinkSubmitted by John Garvin on May 4, 2019 – 6:33pmI’m in general support of this legislation, but what the hell is “require the gatherers to sign sworn statements that they will follow state laws and rules”? That’s kind of like requiring Democrats to sign a statement saying that they will cooperate with federal immigration authorities concerning illegal aliens. Only stiff penalties will get their attention. Make a violation hurt their wallet and/or their freedom. Don’t trust the word of Democrats when they’re on a political mission – lying is their nature.

PermalinkSubmitted by Justin on May 4, 2019 – 5:36pmAn amendment needs 60% approval to pass you conservaclowns! If it passes, that means we, the voters of Florida, want it! The reason anything even ends up going the constitutional amendment path is because the ultra conservative Florida Legislatire refuses to even consider any legislation that is not ultra conservative. The citizen initiative system is literally THE PEOPLES OVERRIDE OF THE CORRUPT POLITICAL ESTABLISHMENT. If you oppose it and want to let politicians control everything you are just as bad as anyone who voted for Hitler, because that’s exactly what he did.

PermalinkSubmitted by Vic Bennett on May 4, 2019 – 6:36pmLet’s not forget that Hitler was a socialist.

PermalinkSubmitted by Dorine on May 4, 2019 – 2:27pmFINALLY! After the last round of 20 something amendments to wade through in one election – amendments that were in legal language instead of plain english… I wish they had added that ONLY Florida registered voters could collect petitions… with id badges that show their County of residence. Get the carpet-baggers out of our election process.

PermalinkSubmitted by Justin on May 4, 2019 – 5:31pmBut I bet you have no problem with the out of state billionaires donating millions to influence our elections. Like Sheldon Adelson from NEVADA, he donated $5 million against the medical marijuana amendment. That doesn’t bother you at all does it, only when Florida voters are able to go around the corrupt Florida legislature are you bothered.

PermalinkSubmitted by C Breeze on May 4, 2019 – 9:26amIT’S ABOUT TIME ! ( Lately, it seems way too much STUPID STUFF makes it to the “ballot stage”..! Petitions suffer from the age-old “stuff the ballot-box trick” far too many times to find them legitimate ! [Apparently, it’s the ONLY way Liberals can ‘win’,… cheat ! ]

PermalinkSubmitted by Justin on May 4, 2019 – 5:28pmDo you clowns realize that in order to pass, an amendment must receive over 60% of the vote? Every single amendment that passed since 2006 has been more popular than any politician. You just don’t like it because you are in the 0-40% MINORITY of far right extremist conservatives. You cant blame liberals for this one, 60% of Florida is not liberal! This is EXACTLY the same kind of stuff Hitler did to gain and retain power. Keep voting for nazis, moron.

PermalinkSubmitted by Dean Franklin on May 4, 2019 – 8:41amRepublicans again prove they hate Citizen Initiatives. They don’t believe we are smart enough to determine our own destiny. They have proven their hatred by the restrictive way they implement them. Vote the Bums Out!

PermalinkSubmitted by Anonymous on May 4, 2019 – 12:26pm”Franklin”, you too often prove yourself to be the “Dean of stupid”.

PermalinkSubmitted by Anonymous on May 4, 2019 – 12:26pm”Franklin”, you too often prove yourself to be the “Dean of stupid”.

PermalinkSubmitted by J Kensler on May 4, 2019 – 12:19pmNo. They respect voters too much to allow them to be preyed upon & bamboozled by outside lobby orgs with boatloads of $ & nefarious agendas. For example, radical extremist fake charities with ulterior motives & enormous skills at appealing to emotions saturated the state with such a well orchestrated campaign of repeated lies they distorted reality & gained control of public opinion. Wrong to allow, no matter what side we’re on. We’ve all seen how exploitative, opportunistic movements can take hold thru media & create parallel universes around issues most voters aren’t close enough to so they can balance what they hear against knowledge, reason & logic. It’s become way too easy to trigger emotions by manipulating words & applying psychology so tested & honed the effect & outcome are predictable. “Crisis industries” have become huge global multi billion dollar p/y businesses using formulas, strategies & tactics so effectively they’re able to reach masses, control politics, remove rights, freedoms & choices before we even realize they’re gone. Or before we discover we’ve been used as players in someone’s insidious, labyrinthine scam. We all need to protect ourselves & each other from this vulnerability. We all want the truth & a fair chance at it. These GOPs are taking responsibility for preventing exploitation of voters in some cases facilitated by members of their own ranks. This is not a right vs left thing, it’s about a universal sense of justice. We need that more than ever bc we pay for the mistakes we can be lead to make & they can’t be fixed easily, if at all. Some states legislators have the ability to veto damaging initiatives or rework them to create better laws. Not so in Florida.

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