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Senate Approves Initiative Reform Package House Not Yet on Track

April 1, 2004

Today the full Senate approved its Constitutional Initiative Reform Package by an impressive margin.

Senate Joint Resolution 2392 would amend Article XI, Section 5, and create Article XII, Section 26, of the Florida Constitution, to increase the vote necessary for passage from the current 50% + 1 to 60% of those voting on the proposed amendment. SJR 2392 passed with 37 yeas and 2 nays.

Senate Joint Resolution 2394 would substantially amend Article IV, Section 10, and Article XI, Section 5, of the Florida Constitution. Any proposed amendment by citizen initiative must be submitted to the Secretary of State by February 1st in the year that the amendment would be voted upon in the November general election. SJR 2394 passed with 38 yeas and 1 nay.

SJR 2396 would substantially amend Article XI, Section 3, of the Florida Constitution to limit the scope of constitutional amendments and revisions that can be placed on the ballot by citizen initiative to include only those proposed measures that: alter, amend or repeal an existing article or amendment to the Constitution; address the fundamental right of a citizen of Florida; and seek to create, implement or otherwise change the basic structure of state government, as determined by the Florida Supreme Court. SJR 2396 passed with 35 yeas and 4 nays.

The most significant debate of the day surrounded the passage of Senate Bills 2398, 2400 and 2402. These bills would authorize a special election to be held during the Augusta 31, 2004 primary election during which the aforementioned constitutional initiative reform measures would be considered by the electorate.

Bill sponsors Senators Rod Smith (D-Gainesville) and Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) argue that these proposed changes to the constitution should have the opportunity to be considered during the Primary Election free from the clutter that will most certainly surround the November General Election. Opponents argued that historically, too few voters turn out in primaries and that this may seem like the Legislature is trying to "slip one by" the voters.

Each of the "Special Election" bills require a three-fourths (3/4) vote of each chamber of the Florida Legislature to become law. The Senate produced that 3/4 vote today passing each bill by a 34 to 4 margin.

The House was expecting to introduce its initiative reform package this morning during the sub committee on Ethics and Elections meeting. Unfortunately, because of some lengthy debate surrounding two other election reform bills, time ran short, and the initiative reform resolutions were temporarily postponed.

Scheduled to be introduced were the following proposed committee bills :

PCB PR 04-08 proposes a constitutional amendment that would increase the vote necessary for passage from the current 50 +1 to 60% of those voting on the proposed amendment. PCB PR 04-08 is similar to SJR 2392, however the date for implementation is January 4, 2005 versus the Senate's proposed date of July 15th 2004.

PCB PR 04-09 would require that initiative petitions and the requisite signatures be submitted to the state custodian of records at least 240 days prior to the next general election. This resolution is similar to SJR 2394 in that it requires a February 1st submission deadline. The two bills vary deadlines by about 2 - 3 weeks.

PCB PR 04-11 would limit the scope of any future citizen initiatives to only those purposes that may not be advanced by general law. This proposal is similar to SJR 2396. It differs in its definition of "those issues not appropriate for inclusion in the state's constitution."

PCB 04-10 introduces initiative reform logic that has not yet been considered by the Senate. The proposal would require that any amendment or revision proposed by any manner to the state constitution which imposes a cost on state government greater than $1 million per fiscal year carry with it a tax or fee sufficient to pay for the proposed amendment. This concept, originally introduced by the governor as "No Hidden Taxes", would also impose a 2/3 ratification threshold on these types of citizen initiatives because of the imposition of a tax or fee.

The House will be in recess next week because of the holiday. This will leave them one final committee week to advance these initiative reforms through Ethics and Elections and through the full Procedures Committee. Representative Joe Pickens (R-Palatka), warned the committee members that the bills will move quickly upon the House's return and that they shouldn't be upset about the short time frame between meetings.