Alarm grows as Florida GOP advances plan to gut ballot initiative process

Alarm grows as Florida GOP advances plan to gut ballot initiative process
Ron DeSantis speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Gage Skidmore

The citizen initiative process that gave Floridians the power to raise the minimum wage and restore voting rights is under grave threat after the state's House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday advanced a Republican proposal to dramatically limit the scope of future ballot measures.

Led by state Rep. Mike Beltran (R-57), House Joint Resolution 1127 would alter Florida's constitution to limit citizen initiatives to "matters relating to procedural subjects or to structure" of the government—a restriction that likely would have blocked $15 minimum wage, voting rights, medical marijuana, and conservation amendments.

Having passed out of the GOP-controlled judiciary panel, the proposal is soon expected to receive a vote in the full state House of Representatives. If the Florida Legislature passes Beltran's resolution, voters will have to approve the amendment for it to be added to the state constitution.

Final approval of the resolution would effectively spell the death of the state's citizen initiative process, the ACLU of Florida warned in a statement Tuesday evening.

"These proposed changes to the citizen initiative process are not about fixing problems—they are about interfering with the will of Floridians," said Kara Gross, the group's legislative director and senior policy counsel. "Through ballot initiatives, citizens have been able to improve the lives and well-being of Floridians."

Gross characterized the Florida GOP's attack on the citizen initiative process as part of a broader trend of "politicians trying to rewrite the rules because they do not like it when voters use their power is a trend that must come to an end."

"Florida lawmakers should respect the will of the people and Floridians' right to participate in our democracy through the citizen initiative process," Gross added. "They should vote no on these proposals and end the crusade of sabotaging the right of the people to be heard."

House Joint Resolution 1127 is hardly the Florida GOP's first attempt to gut the citizen initiative process, which empowered voters to enact broadly popular policies that would've gone nowhere in the GOP-dominated state Legislature.

In 2020, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill containing a number of new ballot initiative restrictions, including an increase of the signature requirement. Last year, DeSantis signed a measure limiting donations to citizen initiative campaigns—a limit that was later blocked by a federal judge.

Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation voters, told a local CBS affiliate on Tuesday that the state GOP's efforts are "basically about limiting the power of people to raise important public policies and important public issues that they don't feel the Legislature is considering."

"So, it's horrible in a word," Moncrief added. "If the people really wanted this done, they would have done it."

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