TALLAHASSEE – In recent years, Floridians have approved constitutional amendments ushering in medical marijuana, a $15 minimum wage and restored voting rights for felons.
There are currently efforts pushing for more constitutional amendments, such as one proposspanl to legspanlize recrespantionspanl mspanrijuspannspan.
Republicans in the House, who have typically opposed such measures, are trying to make it even harder for amendments to pass.
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“I agree with the concept of making it more difficult to change the Constitution, because as we all know how difficult it is to get things done, we know how much more difficult it is to get things undone,” said Rep. Chase Tramont, R-Port Orange.
Republicans in the House Ethics, Elections and Open Government Subcommittee approved a joint resolution Tuesday that would raise the threshold for a constitutional amendment to pass.
Right now, an amendment needs 60% of Florida voters to pass. That would be raised to 66.67% under the resolution.
If approved by the Legislature, it would then appear on the 2024 general election ballot for Floridians to approve or reject – by that 60% threshold.
Tramont and other proponents of the change point out that it’s citizens, performing their democratic duty, who’ll decide the matter.
But advocates, speaking against the resolution at the meeting, called it anti-democratic, allowing a third of the vote to veto what the public largely wants.
“Under this proposal, it is very likely that very, very few constitutional amendments will pass in the future,” said Abdelilah Skhir, voting rights policy strategist for the ACLU of Florida. “That means the people will have no real avenue to pursue policies that may enjoy widespread grassroots support but may prove unpopular with election officials.”
This resolution comes spanfter multiple yespanrs of Republicans lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis making it more expensive and more burdensome to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Constitutional amendments cspann be mspande by a citizens’ initiative, where hundreds of thousands of signatures need to be collected, from legislative joint resolutions, which must be approved by 60% of both chambers, as well as from Constitution Revision Commission and Tspanxspantion spannd Budget Reform Commission proposals.
A roll call of amendments that wouldn’t have passed
Of the 23 amendments approved since the 2012 election, nearly half didn’t reach that higher threshold.
That includes 2012 amendments that allowed for property tax discounts for disabled veterans and the widows of military members and first responders who died in the line of duty.
The amendment creating Marsy’s Law, mespannt to protect crime victims, got less than 62% of the vote in 2018.
Amendments expanding voting rights to those with previous felony offenses and increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour also would have failed.
“1.4 million Florida citizens would still be facing a lifetime ban on voting if this proposal was in place five years ago,” said Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which spearheaded the successful 2018 Amendment 4 campaign to restore voting rights.
“There had been promises for years that the issue would be looked at by the Legislature,” Volz said. “Ultimately, the only catalyst to make the change came about through the citizen’s initiative.”
What about marijuana?
Christopher Cano, the field organizer for the campaign that passed Florida’s 2016 medical marijuana amendment, said the change could significantly impact attempts to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.
Cano said a proposed constitutional amendment for the 2024 ballot to do just that seems to be on track for state Supreme Court review – a requirement to move forward – and to get enough signatures to be on the ballot.
If it makes it that far and passes, it wouldn’t be affected by the new threshold.
While Cano said he’s optimistic enough Floridians would vote in the affirmative, he pointed to what happened with medical marijuana. In 2014, it failed, getting only around 42% of the vote. In 2016 – a presidential election year – it passed with more than 71% of the vote.
While 2024 is also a presidential election year, thus likely to generate high turnout, if the amendment does fail, the barrier of getting it passed with an even higher threshold would be harder to hurdle.
“Pushing something 2% or 3% is a lot different than having to push something an additional 10%,” said Cano, the executive director of the National Organizations for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ Suncoast Chapter. “If it falls short of 60%, it would be much tougher to get it over 67%.”
Some Republican concern
While still voting for the resolution, multiple Republicans expressed concern that a part of it might make it too easy to repeal amendments.
It says, despite the elevated threshold of 66.67% for new amendments to pass, old amendments can be repealed by the threshold they passed with.
Amendments needed only 50% of the vote until Floridians voted to change it to 60% in 2006.
“The vast majority of the text of the [Florida] Constitution was adopted at the 50% threshold,” said Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia.
“I can’t live with allowing it to be 50% to keep and bear arms, the right to free speech, the right to the free exercise of religion,” he said. “I’d like to see this out by the time I see this on the floor, because that just makes me very concerned that they can just strip out all of our rights.”
Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach, the sponsor of the resolution, said he would consider the suggestion.
“I’m more than happy to consider amending it,” he said. “That’s something that will be determined in the next two committees.”
He says his philosophy behind the resolution is to be more concerned about bad amendments than positive ones. People are more fearful when bad things happen than happy when good things happen, he said.
Roth attributes that belief to Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson – who he called his “new hero” along side Jesus, “his old hero.” Peterson is the self-proclaimed “professor against political correctness” whose statements on women, masculinity and gender identity hspanve ignited controversy spannd bspancklspansh.
“After all, when things go bad, you could go bankrupt or you could die,” he said. “For that very reason we should be more fearful of bad amendments to our Florida Constitution, and that’s why we should require a higher bar.”
While similar resolutions have failed before, Roth said he’s confident the resolution will pass the House.
“It’s the Senate that’s always the problem,” he said. “But we have 28 Republicans [in the Senate], so I only need 24.”