Florida Record

Sunday, March 29, 2020

High court green-lights Florida's pass-it-twice initiative for amending state constitution

Elections

By Michael Carroll | Mar 3, 2020

Ballot box

A ballot measure requiring Floridians to vote twice on constitutional amendments before they could take effect is headed for the November ballot after receiving a favorable state Supreme Court opinion last month.

The Keep Our Constitution Clean initiative, which aims to limit constitutional changes to serious public policy questions, has also surpassed the state’s threshold of more than 700,000 signatures for getting initiatives on the ballot.

“The proposal here is consequential but straightforward: For any proposed amendment or revision to become part of our constitution, it would have to be approved by the voters in two elections rather than one,” the high court justices wrote in the Feb. 20 opinion. “The proposal otherwise leaves the existing constitutional amendment framework in place, and it treats all proposed amendments or revisions – however originated – the same.”

The Supreme Court review followed a request from the state Attorney General’s Office for an advisory opinion on the validity of the amendment.

The current Florida constitution, which originated in the 1960s, has accumulated 140 amendments, according to Jason Zimmerman, a member of the legal team behind the Keep Our Constitution Clean initiative. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution has been amended only 27 times in more than two centuries.

“It shouldn’t be used to legislate when you can’t legislate, so any changes to the constitution need to be serious foundational questions for the state,” Zimmerman told the Florida Record.

Recent changes to the constitution approved by voters include bans on greyhound racing and offshore oil drilling.

“A lot of those could have been handled by the legislature if they were serious enough for the legislature to consider,” Zimmerman said.

If voters approve the measure in November, Florida would follow in the steps of Nevada, which also has a pass-it-twice referendum process, he said. The idea has attracted the support of Republicans, Democrats and independents, according to Zimmerman.

“What Nevada was doing was the right idea,” he said, adding that the Florida measure simply gives citizens the power to better vet issues before they are added to the state constitution.

The initiative’s advance comes as state lawmakers are attempting to make tweaks to the initiative process. Currently, initiative campaigns need to gather signatures amounting to 8 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the last presidential election, and they must surpass that threshold in at least half of the state’s 27 congressional districts.

But a House joint resolution would apply that 8 percent threshold to all of the congressional districts.

Zimmerman emphasized that the Keep Our Constitution Clean proposal would not take away people’s rights to change the constitution but would simply put in place a more thorough process to accomplish such changes.

“This actually supports direct democracy,” he said.

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