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Lawmakers move to restrict citizens' rights to amend state constitution

Medical marijuana, class size, fair districts, environmental land and restoration of voting rights; since 2002, Florida voters have seen fit to amend the state constitution, often to the chagrin of legislators.

In 2005, lawmakers drafted their own proposed amendment: Amendment 3. The amendment raised the threshold to add new amendments to the constitution from 50 percent to 60 percent.
Amendment 3 passed with just 57.7 percent of the vote.
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Lawmakers have also reduced the amount of time citizens have to gather signatures from Florida voters for proposed amendments to just two years.
Because of these changes, less than one-third of the amendments put before voters since 2010 have been drafted by citizens, with the majority being written by the Florida Legislature or the Constitution Revision Commission. 
Now, lawmakers are looking to change the rules for citizen-backed amendments again.
In a bill filed this week, lawmakers are pushing what they’re calling “transparency,” looking to provide more information to voters about proposed amendments all while limiting who can collect required signatures to get a proposed amendment on the ballot.  
“This puts before the legislature the fundamental question of what the purpose of a constitution is, what the purpose of the legislature is; are we going to remain a republic or do we like the idea that a single billionaire, whether you like their ideology, can fund the process to put something into our constitution threatening the sovereignty of our state?” Rep. James Grant (R-Tampa), who supports the bill, said. “Foreign entities have an open season on our constitution should they choose to fund initiatives, gather petitions and run a campaign that would put something into our constitution.”
The bill would make a few key changes to the way petitions for amendments are gathered and the information before voters. 
According to staff analysis the bill would: “Require that a petition-gatherer be a Florida resident, register with the Secretary of State prior to obtaining signatures, and not be paid based on the number of petitions gathered.” 
In addition, it would require the ballot summary to include: “The name of the initiative's sponsor, the percentage of contributions received by the sponsor from certain in-state persons, cost or impact, and if the amendment may result in higher taxes or reduced program funding.”
Critics point out that the truncated timeline for gathering citizen signatures means citizen-backed amendments are often forced to hire people to gather signatures, saying, if the changes are implemented, only the legislature will have realistic chance to propose amendments.
“What it appears to do is discourage constitutional amendment initiatives,” said Dave Cullen of the Florida Sierra Club.  “You talk about transparency and to us this bill is transparent, and that is the legislature wants sole authority to put stuff on the ballot.”
Those in opposition also raised questions about the bill’s registration requirements.
“This puts an undue burden on our citizens to put an initiative on the ballot,” said Nicolette Springer with the Florida League of Women Voters. “This is a first amendment right to go out and gather petitions, they should not have to register to do that.”
The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee. However, it still has additional stops before it can be brought to the floor for a full vote.

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