Supreme Court signs off on amendment proposal
By Jim Saunders
News Service of Florida
Florida voters will decide in November whether to make it harder to amend the state Constitution.
The Florida Supreme Court last Thursday unanimously approved a ballot measure that would require future constitutional amendments to be approved by voters twice — instead of once — to take effect.
The political committee Keep Our Constitution Clean received nearly $9 million in contributions during the past year as it collected and submitted enough petition signatures to get the measure on the November ballot. But it still needed a sign-off from the Supreme Court, which looks at issues such as whether ballot wording would be misleading and whether proposed amendments address single subjects.
Justices, in a six-page opinion, said the proposal’s ballot title and summary — the wording that voters see at the polls — meet legal requirements.
“The summary unambiguously explains to voters how the proposed amendment would change the Constitution, and it puts that change in the context of the legal status quo,” the opinion said.
Also, justices said the proposal meets the single-subject test.
“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 opinion said. “The proposal otherwise leaves the existing constitutional amendment framework in place, and it treats all proposed amendments or revisions — however originated — the same.”
The proposal will appear on the ballot as Amendment 4. The Supreme Court also has signed off on proposed constitutional amendments that would increase the state’s minimum wage and change wording in the Constitution about the citizenship of voters. A proposal that would revamp the state’s primary-election system is pending at the court.
Each of the proposals would need support from at least 60 percent of voters to take effect.
Last Thursday’s ruling came at the same time Republican legislative leaders and powerful groups, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, are trying to put additional restrictions on the constitutional amendment process.
They have long complained about a proliferation of amendments dealing with issues that they say should not be in the Constitution. But amendment supporters say going directly to voters has often been the only way to pass popular issues — such as setting aside money for land and water conservation and broadly legalizing medical marijuana — that state leaders had not adequately addressed.
House and Senate committees last week approved proposals (House PCB JDC 20-07 and Senate SPB 7062) that would increase petition-signature requirements for political committees backing ballot initiatives. Also, a separate bill (HB 7037), which is ready to go to the House floor, would place a series of other new restrictions on the signature process. The Senate version of that bill (SB 1794) has cleared two committees.
While Keep Our Constitution Clean has received millions of dollars in contributions, its sources of funding are unclear. That is because the money has been run through the non-profit group Keep Our Constitution Clean, Inc., which is not required to fully disclose its funding.