Gov. DeSantis signs Florida initiative process restrictions into law

The Florida legislature approved a bill April 9 regarding the state’s ballot initiative process. Senate Bill 1794, which Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law the same day, included the following provisions:

  • increases the signature requirement threshold to trigger a review of the initiative petition by the Florida Supreme Court—changing it from 10% to 25% of the total requirement—and requires the threshold be met in half of congressional districts instead of one-fourth of them;
  • requires the Florida Supreme Court to review whether a proposed amendment is “facially invalid under the United States Constitution” in addition to existing requirements for reviewing the ballot title and reviewing the initiative for compliance with the state’s single-subject rule;
  • requires petitioners to pay the actual cost of verifying signatures rather than the existing fee of $0.10 per signature or the actual cost, whichever is less;
  • allows any citizen to challenge the registration of a paid circulator;
  • makes signatures invalid after February 1 of even-numbered years each cycle instead of allowing signatures to remain valid for a period of two years;
  • allows 60 days (instead of 30) for county elections supervisors to verify signatures except within 60 days from the February 1 deadline;
  • requires elections supervisors to reject signatures collected by paid circulators not validly registered at the time the signatures were collected;
  • requires specific statements concerning the impact of the measure on the state budget (negative, positive, or indeterminate) to be included on the ballot;
  • makes exceptions for initiative petition signatures gathered prior to the effective date of the bill (April 8, 2020); and
  • other provisions related to the cost of signature verification, requirements for supervisors to post certain information about signature validity and verification costs, and fiscal impact statements.

The bill was approved along party lines with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. The vote was 73-45 in the House and 23-17 in the Senate.

A coalition of organizations—including the League of Women Voters of Florida, ACLU of Florida, Common Cause Florida, Florida AFL-CIO, Florida Conservation Voters, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Organize Florida, Progress Florida, Sierra Club Florida, Southern Poverty Law Center, and The New Florida Majority—sent a letter to Gov. DeSantis asking him to veto the bill. The letter argued, ”Constitutional amendments that pass do so with almost always a higher threshold than elected leaders. Why should we want to limit a citizen’s ability to enact change? SB 1794 does exactly that. In the midst of a global health crisis, any limitation to a citizen’s right to direct democracy seems unjust.”

Speaking of SB 1794, Sen. Dennis Baxley (R) said, “I say not giving proper restraint to how people amend the state constitution is a neglect of our duty to protect that constitution and the election process by which people select people in a democratic republic to go and represent them.”

Four citizen initiatives qualified for the 2020 ballot before the signature verification deadline passed on February 1. Two amendments were referred to the 2020 ballot by the state legislature.

In 2019, the Florida State Legislature passed House Bill 5, which banned pay-per-signature, added paid circulator registration requirements, and other provisions related to fiscal impact statements and deadlines.

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