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A Times Editorial

An insulting power grab

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003

Rep. Randy Johnson doesn't think the voters of Florida know what they are doing. The Republican from Celebration has proposed a constitutional amendment to give legislators the ability to ignore citizen initiatives and set their own funding priorities. Johnson's insulting proposal (HJR 437) should die a quick, ignominious death. He seems to have forgotten that the citizenry is only driven to change the state Constitution when its elected representatives refuse to adopt the proper priorities.

Johnson, as with other lawmakers, should either accept the people's directions or find a new line of work.

When the public voted to reduce class sizes, even in the face of Gov. Jeb Bush's "block out the sun" scare tactics on cost, it was directing the Legislature to do better on education, whatever the price. The vote was an expression of deep frustration at Tallahassee's failure to provide for the needs of the state's schools and students.

Johnson wants to give lawmakers the freedom to turn a deaf ear to this cry once again. His proposal would allow legislators to ignore constitutional amendments that were established through a petition drive -- even those already passed -- if the Legislature found their implementation too expensive. He defends this power grab as a way to restore the Legislature's prerogative of determining funding priorities.

Johnson has forgotten his civics lessons, particularly Rousseau's social contract. Setting funding priorities for the public's money rests with the people. Johnson, as an elected representative, has been delegated some of that power, but Floridians have held back some -- allowing themselves to direct the Legislature through citizen initiative when necessary.

There is little reason to believe Johnson's idea will get very far. Although it narrowly passed a committee in the House, it still faces approval of three House committees, and there is no Senate companion. Also, the measure would have to pass both houses by a three-fifths vote and then win a vote of the people. Johnson would probably like to bypass this last part. It means he will have to cede once again to the people's discretion, and we know how little faith he has in that.

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