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House bill would allow legislators to ignore voters

While voting yes on the bill, some lawmakers called it an arrogant measure that treats citizens like children.

©Associated Press
March 21, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- A House panel on Thursday approved a proposal that would let state lawmakers ignore changes that people make to the state Constitution by petition drive.

Lawmakers could also disregard changes voters have already made to the Constitution, such as the class size reduction ballot measure approved just four months ago.

The legislative proposal has a long way to go. Since it would change their right to change the Constitution by citizen initiative, it would have to be approved by voters.

To get to the 2004 ballot, the legislation needs approval of three-fifths of the House and Senate. The measure (HJR 437) was approved by 4-3 vote in the Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections. There is no companion proposal in the Senate.

Under the House proposal, the Legislature could decide not to implement constitutional provisions that originate by petition drive if lawmakers think they are too expensive.

Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, who sponsored the legislation, said it would restore lawmakers' fundamental role of sorting through priorities and deciding where to spend the state's money.

"This is a terrific place for the buck to stop," Johnson told the committee.

And it's the prerogative of the Legislature to decide what gets funded and what doesn't -- even things mandated by voters, he said.

"Sometimes the things they ask of us oppose the ability to be good managers," he said. "Somebody somewhere has to sort it out, and I think that is us."

The committee vote was along party lines, but even a couple of the supporters said they had concerns and reservations.

Rep. Don Brown, R-DeFuniak Springs, said he was worried that voters might think approval of Johnson's measure signaled intent to ignore the class size measure voters approved in November.

But, he said, the fate of Johnson's proposal is also in the hands of voters. "They can choose whether or not they want to offer back to their representatives the right to not implement their directive if ... the tax implications would be profound," Brown said. "All we're doing is offering an amendment to the people."

Rep. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he was voting for Johnson's measure to move it to the next committee but that he had reservations. He said it seemed to put the Legislature in the role of parents and voters in the role of children.

Johnson said there was "no intent in this bill to take the people's mandate and put it at the bottom of the pile."

But Democrats said the measure would increase the role of government and circumvent the will of voters. Rep. Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach, called the proposal arrogant. Rep. Bob Henriquez, D-Tampa, said it would allow lawmakers to substitute their judgment for the judgment of voters.

"It oversteps what our role should be," he said.

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