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    Groups sue over amendment law

    Gov. Jeb Bush says voters aren't getting the full story when they read citizen initiatives.

    By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 21, 2002


    TALLAHASSEE -- Two citizen groups backing constitutional amendments sued the state Thursday to block a new law that requires price tags for such ballot initiatives.

    The Legislature stacked the deck against citizen-led initiatives, said the groups, the Coalition to Reduce Class Size and the Pre-K Committee.

    The law says each constitutional amendment must include a "fiscal impact statement" that estimates what the amendment will cost. But amendments proposed by the Legislature, or those already certified for the ballot, will not carry price tags.

    That's not only unfair but also unconstitutional, the lawsuit says.

    The suit was filed in Leon Circuit Court one week before a state agency appointed by the governor and the Legislature meets to begin assessing the cost of the two amendments. One requires universal preschool while the other seeks to reduce class sizes.

    Lawmakers and Gov. Jeb Bush say voters aren't getting the full story when they read the narrow ballot language of citizen initiatives.

    They cite as an example the constitutional amendment voters approved in 2000 that called for the construction of a high-speed rail system, which could cost billions in tax dollars. They also point to the class-size amendment, which also could cost billions.

    But Thursday's suit complains that the Legislature changed the rules in the middle of the game. Both amendment drives were under way when the law changed.

    "This law not only changes the rules, but creates a double standard that puts citizen initiatives at a disadvantage," Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas said in a prepared statement.

    The citizen groups also complain that the cost estimates won't be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court as ballot language is now. The court must determine whether ballot language is accurate and does not cover multiple subjects.

    An amendment to ban smoking in public places won't have to have a fiscal statement because it was certified before the law took effect May 24, the groups said.

    Other amendments, including an animal cruelty measure dealing with pregnant pigs, and another that would revamp state oversight of Florida's university system, also must have price tags.

    The differing standards, the suit contends, violate the free speech and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

    The issue has a political undercurrent. The Republican-led Legislature passed the new law and was backed by Bush, also a Republican. Most proposed citizen initiatives are backed by Democrats.

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