By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers this month approved a controversial bill that is expected to make it harder to put citizens’ initiatives on the ballot.
The bill (HB 5) would place additional restrictions on gathering the hundreds of thousands of petition signatures needed to reach the ballot. For 2020 ballot proposals, supporters need to submit 76,632 valid signatures to trigger a review by the Florida Supreme Court. If justices sign off on the proposed ballot wording, supporters then would need to submit 766,200 signatures for the measures to go before voters.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill, which, among other things, would prevent petition-gatherers from being paid based on the number of signatures they collect — a change that is expected to drive up costs.
But amid the likely changes, petition signatures have continued pouring into the state Division of Elections in recent weeks, with two initiatives ready for Supreme Court review and others nearing that initial threshold.
Here are seven initiatives to watch in the coming months as petition gathering, Supreme Court reviews and the effects of the new legislation play out:
— UTILITY DEREGULATION: The political committee Citizens for Energy Choices is pursuing a proposal that would overhaul the state’s electric utility industry. In part, the proposal calls for wholesale and retail electricity markets to “be fully competitive so that electricity customers are afforded meaningful choices among a wide variety of competing electricity providers.” The proposal, which faces fierce opposition from state leaders, business groups and utilities, is scheduled for an Aug. 28 Supreme Court hearing. Signature submitted: 250,010.
— MINIMUM WAGE: Led by prominent Orlando attorney John Morgan, the political committee Florida For A Fair Wage is proposing to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. Under the proposal, the minimum wage would go to $10 an hour on Sept. 30, 2021 and increase by $1 each year until it hits $15 an hour on Sept. 30, 2026. The state’s minimum wage this year is $8.46 an hour. Morgan also led a 2016 drive that broadly legalized medical marijuana. The Supreme Court has not set a hearing date. Signatures submitted: 178,548.
— CITIZENSHIP OF VOTERS: The political committee Florida Citizen Voters is backing a proposal that would change part of the state Constitution that now says, “Every citizen of the United States who is at least eighteen years of age and who is a permanent resident of the state, if registered as provided by law, shall be an elector of the county where registered.” The proposal would change that wording to: “Only a citizen of the United States who is at least eighteen years of age and who is a permanent resident of the state, if registered as provided by law, shall be an elector of the county where registered.” Signatures submitted: 75,413.
— MEDICAID EXPANSION: The political committee Florida Decides Healthcare is pursuing a proposed that would expand Medicaid coverage to many low-income adults who are not currently eligible. Such an expansion is optional for states under the federal Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, and would apply to people whose incomes are up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Numerous other states have expanded coverage in recent years, but Florida lawmakers have rejected the idea. Signatures submitted: 70,539.
— MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: Though it has received relatively little statewide coverage, a proposal to legalize marijuana for personal use is getting close to the threshold for Supreme Court review. The proposal by the committee Sensible Florida says, in part, “In the interest of the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes, and individual freedom, the people of the State of Florida find and declare that the use of cannabis should be legal for persons twenty-one years of age or older.” Signatures submitted: 64,560.
— ASSAULT WEAPONS: Florida lawmakers last year rejected calls to ban assault-style weapons after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The political committee Ban Assault Weapons Now is trying to put the issue on the 2020 ballot. The proposal defines the weapons as “semiautomatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device.” Signatures submitted: 51,546.
— PRIMARY ELECTIONS: The political committee All Voters Vote, which is seeking to revamp Florida’s primary-election system, has submitted relatively few signatures. But it is backed by prominent Miami-Dade County health-care executive Mike Fernandez, who contributed $2.25 million last month. Under the proposal, all registered voters would be able to cast ballots in primaries, regardless of political affiliation. The two candidates getting the most votes in each primary would advance to the general election. Signatures submitted: 4,710.