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DeSantis Signs Bill Making It Harder To Pass Citizens Initiatives Despite Calls To Veto

man speaks, hands upturned
Steve Cannon
AP Photo
Florida Gov. Ron Desantis gives his State of the State address on the first day of the 2020 legislative session, Jan. 14, in Tallahassee

The Florida legislature has started sending Governor Ron DeSantis bills to sign -- a process delayed due to the coronavirus.

DeSantis received seven bills last week and signed all of them. 

While most are relatively non-controversial, one new law ups the stakes for citizen’s initiatives on ballots, and its opponents are disappointed in DeSantis’ move.

Organizations like the League of Women Voters and New Florida majority called on Governor Ron DeSantis to veto the bill. He didn’t.

The new law makes it harder for citizens’ initiatives to get on the ballot.

Those in favor of the proposal say it keeps Florida’s constitution from being easily modified. Opponents say the bill favors large corporations.

Ida Eskamani is a grassroots lobbyist for Organize Florida and New Florida Majority. 

“Some of the most largest corporations in Florida - thinking about Disney, thinking about Florida Power & Light, Publix supported this bill. Every single grassroots voting rights organization opposed this bill,” Eskamani said. 

Eskamani, the twin sister of Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, explained some of the changes. 

"Shortening the life span of petitions, it used to be eight years then it was moved to two years now it’s even shorter after this law," Eskamani said. "It also increases the threshold for judicial review so there’s a point period once you collect a certain percentage of petitions you can go toward the Supreme Court to prove your language, that was at 10% -- now it’s at 25%." 

Jodie James is the Chair of Floridians for Freedom, a group that has attempted to put an amendment on a ballot allowing adults the right to cannabis. 

“Right now the bill before us is going to move the goal post on a Supreme Court review, and that means it’s going to be even harder and take even longer," James said. "This legislation restarts the clock every 24 months, meaning if the infrastructure it’s not already in place, it won’t happen.” 

James said her group would have to spend more money gathering signatures before knowing if the measure was legally correct. Eskamani said the only people with money to spend like that are those who are wealthy. 

"Grassroots organizations can’t do this process. Essentially Senate Bill 1794 hands over our constitution to millionaires, billionaires, corporations and dark money," Eskamani said. "Those are the only folks that have the resources to get something on the ballot." 

The new law also requires the state to print language on ballots explaining whether an amendment proposal would have a positive, negative or undetermined financial impact on the state.

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, sponsored the bill, and he believes the disclaimer is needed.  

"I happen to believe that it’s important that when people are amending the Florida Constitution that they are told what kind of fiscal impact that proposal will have," James said. "They should be warned that a tax increase may be required, they should be warned that a reduction to services might happen because we fortunately live in a state whose constitution requires a balanced budget.” 

The disclaimer language goes into effect immediately. That means for the upcoming 2020 ballot, voters will be able to see whether initiatives like raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour could impact state government funds.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Blaise Gainey is a Multimedia Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.
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