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Lawmakers back bill making it harder to amend Florida's constitution

The policy would increase the threshold from 60% to 66.6%
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Posted at 6:05 PM, Mar 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-29 18:05:37-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It may soon be harder to amend Florida’s constitution.

A House panel advanced a bill (HJR 61) Monday to increase the votes needed to approve ballot measures. It came despite outcry from opponents, who worried democracy would suffer.

"The Legislature simply sometimes don’t listen to the citizenry," said Trish Neely with the League of Women Voters.

Neely said when that happens, Floridians often use ballot initiatives to make changes.

But HJR 61, she feared, would place approval too far out of reach. Instead of 60%, constitutional amendments would need 66 and two-thirds percent of the vote.

Trish Neely, League of Women Voters
Trish Neely with the League of Women Voters opposes the bill, calling it "despicable."

Repealing an amendment under the bill would take the same percentage of votes needed to install it.

"Don't make it so hard that the citizens simply can’t voice their concerns," Neely said.

State Rep. Rick Roth, R-Palm Beach Gardens, has pushed the idea for five years. He said his policy would help give more weight to minority voices.

"This is a thing that our Founding Fathers were most concerned about," Roth said. "The majority overrunning the minority."

Roth also believed HJR 61 would better insulate against lobbyist and PAC dollar influence.

"I think we want to make sure that the people do not put in something that they don't understand," he said.

State Rep. Rick Roth of Palm Beach Gardens
State Rep. Rick Roth has pushed the idea for five years.

Since 2006, voters have passed 31 amendments with the current 60% threshold. Roth's increase would have killed 17 of them.

"It’s an idea whose time has come, in some people's eyes, because there has been too direct a representative democracy," said Co-House Minority Leader Rep. Evan Jenne.

Jenne felt the GOP majority aimed to limit progressive amendments after the recent passage of measures like the restoration of felon voting rights and Florida's new minimum wage. Voters approved both amendments with less than 66% support.

"I think that it's very telling that, now, after five years, is when it finally gets heard," Jenne said.

Monday's party-line approval sent the bill to its final committee. A Senate measure is making similar progress.

Both the House and Senate would need to offer three-fifths support to pass the bill. It would then appear on the 2022 ballot and require only 60% approval from voters.