By Ashley Lopez – WLRN
This election year, all 11 constitutional amendments on Florida’s ballot came from the state legislature.
Citizen petitions have been one of the most popular ways to change the state constitution, but this year, not a single measure came from a citizen-led drive.
Robin Rorapaugh of Hollywood is president of a political consulting company that helps groups get issues on the ballot.
“My very first campaign in Florida was running the three-part ballot initiative for the ‘Save our Everglades’ campaign,” she said.
All parts of that initiative passed in 1996, and Florida’s Constitution now says the state has to tax sugar to pay for Everglades restoration.
Getting issues on the ballot as a non-lawmaker is more difficult now, Rorapaugh said
“Up until about, I would say, eight years ago, it was a fairly simple initiative process,” she said.
All people had to do was file the measure with the secretary of state and gather signatures
Rules have changed since the mid-1990s, Rorapaugh said. The state legislature has limited citizen petitions.
“The manner of collecting signatures has been highly regulated by the legislature, down to a signature gatherer has to sign the page,” she said.
She said the time to gather signatures is much shorter than it used to be.
“At one point, you could gather signatures for petitions for years and years, waiting to go on the ballot,” she said. “Now, I believe, you have 36 months from beginning to end.”
Rorapaugh said these changes have made it more difficult for non-profits and citizens like her to propose amendments.
Florida lawmakers, however, can put amendments to the constitution on the ballot with a supermajority vote in both chambers.
Damien Filer of Progress Florida, a left-leaning grassroots organization, said he thinks the process of changing the constitution has become easier for lawmakers.
Having one party in control of both houses of the legislature makes it easy to achieve a three-fifths supermajority, he said.
He said this year’s amendments illustrate the difficulty for non-lawmakers to get issues on the ballot.
“I think this is the first time we have seen in a while where there really isn’t that sort of access, direct access, to our democracy by the citizens themselves,” Filer says.
Katherine Hahn wrote this story online.