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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - February 18, 2020
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, media@aclufl.org, (786) 363-2737

February 18, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, FL – On Tuesday, a broad coalition of grassroots organizations — including the Florida Conservation Voters, the AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters, Organize Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and several others — sent a letter to President Galvano and Speaker Oliva urging the legislature protect the constitutionally protected citizen initiative process, and oppose special interests’ blatant attempts to thwart the ability of the people to participate in direct democracy.

Specifically, the letter denounces SB 1794/HB 7037; SB 7062/JD7, and outlines how these bills will make it virtually impossible for grassroots organizations to successfully place on the ballot amendments that will improve the lives of everyday Floridians. The impact of these bills will be to limit the citizen initiative process to only the most well-financed special interest groups who can afford to overcome the outsized obstacles that the legislature is seeking to place in the path of civic participation.

Below are a few examples of how passage of these bills will make it virtually impossible for grassroots organizations to place amendments on the ballot:

  • Drastically increases the requisite number of signatures necessary for review by the Florida Supreme Court (SB 1794 - from 10% of the number of statewide electors to 33% of the state’s electors in two-thirds of congressional districts; HB 7037 - from 10% to 50% from one-fourth of congressional districts).
  • SB7062/JDC 7 would double the number of congressional districts that must pass the 8% threshold of voters needed to qualify for the ballot.
  • Increases costs of petition verification and inserts an arbitrary and inconsistent cost scheme. Presently, the cost of signature verification is at a stable and fixed rate of 10 cents per signature. Through Senate Bill 1794 (and companion House Bill 7037) that pricing will be replaced by a so-called "actual cost" system determined annually, which is more likely to make qualifying for the ballot cost-prohibitive for grassroots movements.
  • The legislation makes petition signatures expire much faster. Currently a petition signature remains valid for two years from the date of signature. Under the proposed restrictions, a signature would be valid only until the next February 1 of an even-numbered year.
  • Requires all-caps bold printed language on the ballot regarding potential of amendments to increase taxes and does not take into account increase to the economy as a whole due to societal improvements from the amendment.   

The following is a statement from Aliki Moncrief, executive director, Florida Conservation Voters: “The only purpose of this legislation is to silence grassroots direct democracy with additional burdensome restrictions and obstacles. Its ultimate effect is to take away our right to a citizens’ initiative process, placing access to the ballot solely in the hands of millionaires, corporations, and wealthy special interest groups.”

The following is a statement from Rich Templin, director of politics & public policy, AFL-CIO: “In the aftermath of recent and historic citizen-led victories that improved the lives of everyday Floridians — minimum wage indexed to inflation, land conservation, smaller class sizes, fair districts, medical marijuana, and voter restoration — the legislature now seeks to end citizen-led initiatives to amend Florida’s Constitution. These bills will ensure that only the most wealthy are able to successfully place amendments on the ballot, completely undermining the intent and purpose of the constitutionally protected right. We thought last year the legislature had done all the damage that could be done. We were wrong. These bills are the final nail in the coffin.”

The following is a statement from Kirk Bailey, political director of the ACLU of Florida: “Floridians’ right to participate in direct democracy is protected by Florida’s constitution. Elected officials should strive to make it easier for the people to access democracy and government at all levels, not harder. Passage of these bills would foreclose everyday Floridians from the citizen initiative process and only provide the wealthy elite and special interest groups access to direct democracy.”

The coalition letter can be found here: https://www.aclufl.org/sites/default/files/sb_1794_coalition_letter_in_o...

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