Does Smarter Growth amendment discriminate against military?
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02/02/09 Seán Kinane
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The Florida Hometown Democracy amendment, which would allow people to vote on changes to their local land use plans, did not qualify for the 2008 ballot. It may be on next year’s ballot, but so might a competing amendment supported by business and development groups that is being called discriminatory by some veterans’ advocates.

If passed, the Smarter Growth amendment, which is backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, would allow citizens to vote on a proposed land use change only if 10 percent of residents sign a petition in person at a local government office.

Carol Stachurski, with the Tallahassee chapter of Veterans for Peace, says that discriminates against military veterans, active duty military personnel, and disabled persons.

“Because it requires that people go to the supervisor of elections office to sign a petition. And you have to personally go, it can’t be done by mail, it can’t done in absentee voter kind of, you have to go to the supervisor of elections office to sign if you have a problem with it, and that lets out many of our veterans because they’re not in their home counties.”

The language of the amendment requires that a petition “must be signed at the office of the appropriate County Supervisor of Elections or City Clerk (or similar election authority for the local government).”

In December, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Smarter Growth amendment petition meets all legal requirements. Several military and veterans groups filed a friend of the court brief asking the Court to reconsider based on the alleged discriminatory requirement. But on Jan. 30, the Court ruled 4-3 against a rehearing, a decision Stachurski disagrees with.

“My problem with it is it that kind of defeats the whole purpose of the thing. If you’re supposed to be getting people in the communities people are voting, and letting their feelings be known, that lets out a significant population.”

Ryan Houck, executive director of Floridians for Smarter Growth, the group promoting the amendment, was pleased that the Florida Supreme Court rejected what he calls “frivolous arguments” from the veterans’ advocates.

“It’s certainly not true and neither was that the intent. Nor will it be the result.”

Houck claims his amendment does not discriminate against military personnel or veterans.

“My first response is that I think the real threat … not only to overseas military personnel, but to every voter, is being faced with a 40-50 page ballot. The likelihood that a ballot of that nature disenfranchises and disillusions voters is very, very serious. And I think the net outcome of Hometown Democracy will be to dampen voter participation.”

But vets groups are still concerned about the in-person signature requirement. Phil Restino, a co-chair of Central Florida Veterans for Peace, hopes that people will “right this terrible wrong.”

“Our soldiers – first of all, I believe they should be home - they’re on their fourth, fifth, sixth tours, but the very soldiers that are giving us fighting so we can be self-governing and participate in what goes on in our name, are excluded by this amendment requiring physical presence. It’s just obscene.”

Restino says if the Smarter Growth amendment passes, other people will be affected in addition to active duty military personnel.

“We don’t want this, and how dare you exclude our soldiers? And it’s not just the soldiers, handicapped people, people homebound that really can’t get out and play by these rules of ten percent having to be physically present within a 60 day time frame. … It’s just another slap in the face and it’s just so, so obscenely unfair, when you consider who’s being excluded.”

Houck said his group is putting forward the Smarter Growth amendment as what he calls a “more mainstream and reasonable alternative” to the “radical and extreme” Florida Hometown Democracy amendment.

“Hometown Democracy would require that any change to a local government’s comprehensive land use plan go on ballot. Now that’s whether it’s a small or technical issue or a large issue. Last year in Florida, there were almost 10,000 changes to local comprehensive land use plans. Under Hometown Democracy, every single one of those changes, by law, would have been forced onto the ballot. So it would not be uncommon for voters to face 200 or 300 technical land use issues on a single ballot. Our amendment was created as an alternative to that.”

If supporters of both amendments gather the required number of signatures to appear on the November 2010 ballot, and if more than 60 percent of voters support both of them, Houck says his Smarter Growth amendment would take precedence.

“There is language written into our amendment designed to supersede Hometown Democracy.”

The fact that business groups support the proposed Smarter Growth amendment also concerns Vets for Peace’s Restino.

“You know, follow the money. It’s being pushed by chamber of commerce which represents, basically, big business – developers and such.”

amendment petition - Florida Growth Management Initiative Giving Citizens the Right to Decide Local Growth Management Plan Changes

Floridians for Smarter Growth

Florida Hometown Democracy

Dec. 18 Supreme Court decision

previous WMNF coverage of Hometown Democracy

Veterans for Peace Central Florida

briefs and other documents filed in the Supreme Court case

Full text of proposed “Smarter Growth” amendment:

a) Statement and Purpose: The Legislature has enacted growth management and land use planning legislation; these laws do not provide for voters’ direct approval of the resulting plans or amendments. The purpose of this amendment is to provide a limited opportunity for voters to approve or disapprove these plans or amendments. Because thousands of growth management plans and amendments are adopted statewide each year, this amendment would limit such referenda to situations where a sufficient number of persons file a petition seeking such a referendum during a set period of time. The criteria for signing and filing a petition are intended to demonstrate that there is substantial interest in a referendum, and are based, in part, on existing Section 550.175, Fla. Stat. This amendment is intended to modify existing law, permit flexibility in future growth management-related legislation (except rules which would affect voters’ ability to petition for referenda), and pre-empt or supersede recent proposals to subject all comprehensive land use plans and amendments to votes, thus balancing competing interests without over-burdening voters.

b) Amendment of Florida Constitution: Art. II, Section 7, Fla. Const., is amended by inserting the following new subsection at the end thereof, to read: “Florida Growth Management Initiative Petitions.”

“a) In addition to any power or ability of voters to participate in growth management planning processes provided by this Section or by general law, the registered voters of a local government may offer a Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition regarding any growth management plan or amendment to such a plan.

“b) If a valid and sufficient Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition is filed and verified by the appropriate election authorities for a local government, the local government shall conduct a referendum approving or disapproving the specific growth management plan or amendment. The referendum shall be conducted as provided by applicable general law of the State or the local government. If a plan or amendment is disapproved in such a referendum, it is not effective and may not be adopted or implemented by the local government or relied on by others. The fact that a plan or amendment has been the subject of a referendum under this Section does not preclude future changes to that plan or amendment, or exempt such changes from these or other procedures and requirements. If a valid and sufficient Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition is not filed for a particular plan or amendment, notwithstanding any other provision of this Section or of general law, no referendum on that particular plan or amendment shall be held pursuant to this Section.

“c) Definitions: For purposes of this section, the following terms shall have the following meanings:

“1) ‘Local government’ means a county or municipality.

“2) ‘Growth management plan’ means a plan to guide and control future land development in an area under the jurisdiction of a local government, including a comprehensive land use plan or similar document, and includes amendments to such plans, however described.

“3) ‘Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition’ means a written petition, on a form designated for that purpose, containing and describing all elements of the applicable growth management plan or amendment, and otherwise conforming in all respects to any requirements imposed by general law. Not more than one applicable growth management plan or amendment may be included in any one petition.

“4) ‘Offer a Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition’ means, in addition to any other requirement imposed by general law, that one or more individuals registered to vote for elections of a local government may complete a Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition form and deposit the form with the County Supervisor of Elections or City Clerk (or similar election authority for the local government). The individuals completing the form must provide identification information, including name, address, telephone numbers, any Internet address or website owned, operated or used by the individuals which contains or will contain information on the particular plan or amendment which is the subject of the Petition, and any information indicating whether they have a financial interest in the particular plan or amendment which is the subject of the Petition (including interests involving personal, commercial or other land uses affected by the plan or amendment), and if so, describing the financial interest. The identification information shall be made available to the public, along with notice of the availability of the Petition; posting of this information on the Internet, in a manner reasonably calculated by the election authority to inform the public, shall be considered sufficient public availability of this information. Individuals who are registered voters of the local government and who are in favor of holding a referendum on the particular growth management plan or amendment shall be permitted to sign the Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition; a signature shall be affixed in a manner which clearly indicates that the signer is in favor of holding the referendum. Every signature upon every Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition must be signed at the office of the appropriate County Supervisor of Elections or City Clerk (or similar election authority for the local government), and the signer must present at the time of such signing evidence showing the person's qualification as a voter of the local government at the time of the signing of the petition. Once the appropriate County Supervisor of Elections or City Clerk (or similar election authority for the local government) determines that, prior to verification, the Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition contains the facially-valid original signatures of at least ten percent of persons registered to vote in elections of the local government, the election authority shall notify the persons who completed and deposited the petition form. The election authority shall inquire if the persons wish to offer the Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition for verification of the signatures; if the persons wish to offer the Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition, the election authority shall verify the signatures, with any costs paid by the offering persons, and consider the Petition offered and submitted.

“5) ‘Valid and sufficient Florida Growth Management Initiative Petition’ means a written petition containing the valid original signatures of at least 10 percent of persons registered to vote in elections of the local government, and which is offered and submitted to the appropriate County Supervisor of Elections or City Clerk (or similar election authority for the local government) within sixty days from the date of the first signature on the petition.”

c) Effective Date and Severability: This amendment shall be self-executing and effective on the date it is approved by the electorate. If any portion of this measure is held invalid for any reason, the remaining portion of this measure, to the fullest extent possible, shall be severed from the void portion and given the fullest possible force and application.

Title and “summary” of proposed amendment:

“TITLE: Florida Growth Management Initiative Giving Citizens the Right to Decide Local Growth Management Plan Changes

SUMMARY: Allows Floridians to call for voter approval of changes to local growth management plans through a citizen petition. Voter approval of growth management plan changes will be required if 10% of the voters in the city or county sign a petition calling for such a referendum. Defines terms and establishes petition requirements.”

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Comments

FHD supporter

Ryan Houck’s reference to 10,000 changes reflects the degree that the process is out of control. Hometown Democracy would seek to reduce the number of amendments by requiring a citizen referendum on each change approved by local government officials. We are betting that if citizens vote on every amendment, there will be only a few plan changes. After all, we are building our new 2010 Comp Plans now, and these plans have significant citizen input, and there should be minimal need to revise these plans. In other words, 10,000 amendments is not a measure of the dysfunctionality of the concept of Florida Hometown Democracy; it is a measure of the dysfunction of our current developer driven process of willy nilly approval of comp plan changes. The Growth Management Act of 1985 required comprehensive plans in each county/municipality. The purpose of the plan is to give some predictability of how land will be used going forward for a period of 10 years. After 10 years the plan will be updated for the next 10 years. This process gives balance and predictability to how land will be used. It was intended to be amended as an exception to accommodate unplanned situations, but it was not intended to be changed easily or at a developer’s whim. Because a plan that is changed too much no longer provides the protections and predictability it was intended to provide. What part of “we don’t want 10,000 comp plan changes” don’t the developers and our elected officials understand? That is the real problem.