FLORIDA'S CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT DEBATE - Mitch Perry

03/18/04

The argument as to whether Citizen Ballot Inititives in Florida are out of control was the subject of a debate (Thursday) this morning in downtown Tampa.

Governor Jeb Bush and other legislators who were against such Constitutional Amendments such as the Class Size Amendment and the High Speed Rail measure, have argued that such issues should NEVER be inserted into the State Constitution, while others - who invariably refer to the 2002 Pregnant Pigs initiative, also say that the process by which such measures go into the constitution has run amok.

In the last year, a coalition of over 50 different organizations, spearheaded by the state's Chamber of Commerce, has put together a group, VoteSmartFlorida.Org, to argue that the process MUST be changed.

Mark Wilson is the senior Vice President of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the public face and voice of VoteSmart Florida.org...He told a crowd of about 200 people at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Tampa that his group is NOT against the citizens initiative Process per se, but want to significantly change how it current works(roll tape#1 o.q."

90 percent of these")

Debating against Wilson was Kristina Wilfore, Executive Director of the Washington based Ballot Initiative Center and Foundation, which works with state and local organizations to help strategize and coordinate ballot issue campaigns.

She began by agreeing with VoteSmartFlorida that there ARE some problems with the Citizen ballot process in Florida, but says her group strongly disagrees with the tactics being employed by that group (roll tape#2 o.q."for those signatures")

Currently, once an iniative has the 488,000 legal signatures required to get on the ballot, a simple majority vote is required to have it passed. But VoteSmart.Org wants to raise that bar higher (roll tape#3 o.q."in this state")

But Kristina Wilfore said that provision would increase Special Interest money..... (roll tape#4 o.q." required")

Much of Wilson's talking points revolved around data compiled by the Chamber of Commerce years ago, which provided what citizens know and don't know about the

Citizen Ballot Process..

Wilson says much of that data showed ignorance on the part of the Florida voter, and he says there needs to be more education provided to the public in advance of going to the Polls......Specifically, he'd like to see any Amendments that have already been approved to be announced on January 1st, for measures that would be voted on in November, giving citizens ample time to become informed (roll tape#5 o.q."seems to be moving that way")

On that last point, The Chamber of Commerce has many allies at the highest levels of Florida Government..... Last week the Senate's Ethics and Elections Committee voted to give justices far more power to decide which proposals belong in the Constitution...The Committee also has agreed to require measures to pass by 60 percent rather than a simple majority. And the 3rd measure agreed to would set a new certification deadline of February 1st of an election year instead of the current 91 days before the election to approve A Ballot initiative.

Regardless of where one stands on these issues, seemingly the issue of The Pregnant Pigs Amendment passed 2 years ago, is frequently invoked as an example of the Citizen Ballot process running amok....But Kristina Wilfore from the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation stresses that that particular campaign was an example of everything that is RIGHT with the ability of citizens to create a law that legislators had failed to do (roll tape#6 o.q."for this ")

The Chamber of Commerce's Mark Wilson also says that there is too much money - from out of state sources - that are infiltrating Florida Citizens ability to create their own laws (roll tape#7 o.q." e, cetera)

But speaking for the current system, Kristina Wilfore says there is more Sunshine thrown

On Citizin Initiative Groups than many others involved in public policy (roll tape#8 o.q."otherwise")

OUTRO: Both speakers said they also favored changing the Statutory process, so that citizen initiatives would NOT have to amend the State Constitution....

Meanwhile,a key question is when the proposed changes would appear on a statewide ballot. To place them on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate is needed. To place them on a special election ballot, such as the Aug. 31 primary, a three-fourths vote is needed.

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