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Petition drives might be limited

A House panel recommends making it more difficult to use citizen initiatives to change the Constitution.

By Associated Press
Published March 9, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - People who want to change the state Constitution by petition drive could be limited to issues dealing with the structure of government or individual rights under a recommendation approved Monday by a House panel.

The Select Committee on Constitutional Amendments voted to recommend that sponsors of citizen initiatives be required to identify how their proposal would be funded and to get 60 percent of the vote to win ultimate passage.

Voters' approval of two potentially expensive petition initiatives - mandatory public school class size reduction in 2002 and a high-speed train project in 2000 - have spurred politicans to push to make it more difficult to use petitions to change the Constitution.

Both of those projects reached the ballot after petition drives that collected nearly 500,000 validated signatures.

Some of the key changes being pushed would be constitutional changes and require voter approval. State lawmakers who want to ask voters to change the Constitution must win approval of 60 percent of the House and the Senate to reach the ballot.

Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, has made the issue his top priority this year. He and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, appointed special committees to hold public hearings around the state and recommend changes.

Lawmakers who support the changes insist the goal is not to take away the right of voters to change the state Constitution by citizen initiative.

"We heard in almost every meeting that people did not want pregnant pigs on the ballot ever again," said Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa.

One of the citizen initiatives that voters approved in 2002 banned the confinement of pregnant pigs in crates too small for the animals to move.

The House committee also voted to recommend trying to get the changes on the Aug. 31 primary ballot. But they wouldn't take effect until 2005, leaving current rules in place for pending citizen initiatives that might make the November ballot.

To reach the August ballot would take agreement by three-fourths of the Legislature. Republicans have a firm grip on both houses but would need Democratic support to win 90 votes in the 120-member House and 30 votes in the 40-member Senate.

[Last modified March 9, 2004, 01:35:32]

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