Big Changes Could Be Coming To The Constitutional Amendment Process

What You Need To Know

Multiple bills are being debated in the state legislature that would change the way constitutional amendments are handled here in Florida. There are four different pieces of legislation that each deal with a unique aspect of the process. Below you'll find a brief summary of what each bill aims to accomplish along with a podcast of the in-depth PM Tampa Bay segment on the issue.

BILL #1 - Comprehensive Overhaul Of The Process

This bill would make the following changes:

  • For citizen-led initiatives, the petition-gatherer must be a Florida resident.
  • A financial impact analysis must be done to summarize how the amendment would affect state and local economies. The findings would then be placed in a statement on the ballot explaining whether voting for the measure would increase costs, decrease revenues or have an indeterminate impact.
  • The name of the sponsor of the initiative would be placed on the ballot. Also included would be the percentage of donations received from in-state donors.
  • A statement would be placed on the ballot letting voters know whether the issue the amendment is aiming to address could be handled through legislative action instead.
  • The attorney general would be able to make specific requests of the Florida Supreme Court in issues related to proposed constitutional amendments.
  • Compensation for petition-gatherers would no longer be tied to the number of signatures they collect.

BILL #2 - Change In Ballot Approval Threshold

This bill would simply increase the voter approval requirement from the current threshold of 60% to a two-thirds majority.

BILL #3 - Single-Subject Rule

This bill would require the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), which meets every 20 years to make revisions to the constitution, to limit all proposed amendments to one subject. It would prevent the bundling of issues into one amendment, as was the case in 2018 with oil drilling and vaping. If this bill passes, both of those issues would have to be considered in separate amendments. The single-subject rule is already in place with amendments proposed by the state legislature and citizen-led initiatives.

BILL #4 - Elimination Of The CRC

This bill would completely eliminate the Constitution Revision Commission. All proposed changes to the constitution would have to come from either the state legislature or citizen-led initiatives.

Analysis

There's no question changes need to be made to the constitutional amendment process. Voters often don't have a solid understanding of what they're voting on or the broader consequences of these measures and even when they do, as we're seeing with felon voting rights, there tends to be quite a few details that have to be filled in by lawmakers in order to implement the policy change.

The bill that's a no-brainer is the one involving the single-subject rule. If we're going to keep the Constitution Revision Commission (I'd be OK with the bill completely eliminating the CRC), we have to limit each proposed amendment to one issue. Not only was there a ton of confusion as to why a policy change dealing with vaping and a separate one dealing with oil drilling was combined into one amendment back in 2018, as a practical matter it makes no sense. What if a voter wants to approve one of the measures but not the other? The single-subject rule is already in place for citizen-led initiatives and amendments placed on the ballot by the state legislature, so there's no reason it shouldn't be required for amendments proposed by the CRC.

The comprehensive overhaul bill has a lot to like as well. From trying to limit the direct influence of political forces outside of our state to adding more information to the summary of the amendment on the ballot, many of these changes would be welcomed additions to the process, especially the measures that add transparency. This legislation isn't perfect and some aspects of it do raise questions and concerns, but it does address some legitimate issues.

The bill that changes the approval threshold for amendments isn't surprising given that eleven of twelve measures on the ballot in 2018 passed, but I'd prefer to see the changes proposed in the other bills go into effect first before increasing the majority needed for passage of an amendment.

At the end of the day, it's really on voters to do their homework before weighing in on these proposed amendments. They can carry significant consequences, both intended and unintended, if approved. Personally, I prefer the legislature handle measures within their purview, which would eliminate the need for most of these amendments. However, if we're going to have a system that allows voters to weigh in directly, we need to streamline that process as best we can and include as much transparency as possible. A few of these bills would do just that, bringing much-needed change to an important issue.

- Ryan Gorman

 
 
PM Tampa Bay with Ryan Gorman

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