House panel considers initiative process February 1, 2005 Assistant Editor Regular News House panel considers initiative process Melinda Melendez Assistant Editor Protecting pregnant pigs, banning certain kinds of fishing nets, creating expensive high-speed trains have all found their way into the Florida Constitution through the initiative process — and sparked controversy along the way.That was the hot topic of a January 12 workshop of the House Judiciary Committee — Chaired by Rep. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs — as changes to the process for amending the Florida Constitution were debated.During the meeting, the committee took testimony from Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, an attorney who chaired the 2004 Select Committee on Constitutional Amendments, in order to consider options for the 2005 legislative session. Pickens recommended — on behalf of the select committee — that the citizen initiative process be preserved. He also, however, acknowledged flaws in the existing system that he said needed to be reformed.In his presentation, Pickens paraphrased a report on constitutional amendments by the National Conference of State Legislatures.“If you’re considering a citizen initiative, don’t do it. After that consideration, if you still think you want to do it as a legislature, rethink that position and don’t do it. If you won’t heed that warning, then by all means don’t do what Florida did, which is create a mechanism to amend the constitution via citizen initiatives without a corresponding statutory initiative, and do it at the lowest threshold possible: 50 percent plus one.”While the process of constitutional amendment via citizen initiative took some heavy fire, the select committee recommended to retain the citizen initiative process as an appropriate method to amend the constitution. The committee contended the citizen initiative process allows Florida voters the opportunity to influence the basic structure of their government, and that public testimony last year confirmed the importance of the process to voters.The select committee also made recommendations that the House consider proposing constitutional reforms that would define what is proper subject matter for constitutional amendments proposed by citizen initiative; require the identification of new revenues for initiatives that have a fiscal impact, or “no hidden taxes”; and raise the vote threshold for passage to 60 percent. Pickens expressed particular concern about voter threshold.“The constitution, at least in my view, has never been intended to be a document that espouses the will of the majority, and certainly not a simple majority,” Pickens said. “The idea that the constitution can be amended at such a low threshold and become a document that simply promotes the will of the majority, like statutes do, rather than protecting a minority, is foreign to what any state or nation that has a constitution meant for it to be. I think the first thing we need to do is look at the vote threshold.”During the 2004 legislative session, the Senate passed a bill that required a 60 percent vote threshold on all proposed amendments (not just citizen initiatives); however, the House did not.In addition to testimony from last year’s Select Committee on Constitutional Amendments, the House Judiciary Committee also took testimony from several interest groups, several of which raised concerns regarding the role of special interests in the citizen initiative process.“This is not the same citizen initiative process that was introduced in the ’60s,” Doug Bailey, chief political officer of Associated Industries of Florida, told the committee. “Too often the process is hijacked by the special interest groups.”Mark Wilson, of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, elaborated: “This problem we have with our ballot initiative process is the single biggest problem facing Florida’s future. In the last election, we had six so-called ‘citizen initiatives’ whose political sponsors and opponents collectively spent approximately $70 million. All six of these amendments used professional, paid signature gatherers; and all six of these amendments passed. Clearly this process is no longer driven by the citizens, and is completely driven by the special interests.”Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause Florida, agreed and said he had mixed feelings about the entire process.“It’s not easy to get an initiative on the ballot unless you have a lot of money. The initiative process is out of reach for true grassroots organizations, and only available now to people who have enough money. The fact that the special interests are increasingly using the initiative process is not a good trend, but I think that many of the restrictions that have been proposed in the past will only make the process more special-interest driven,” said Wilcox.Wilcox, however, went on to defend the merits of the citizen initiative process and reminded the committee of its virtues.“I don’t particularly like the fact that we have pregnant pigs and fishing nets in our constitution, but, I think, we have to remember that there are also amendments to our constitution that were put there through the initiative process that do belong there, and do pertain to the fundamental workings of government,” he said.“There are some things the legislature, by its nature, will never do. Reform of the reapportionment process is one example. I would argue the constitution is a suitable place to address that issue and a citizens’ initiative is probably the only way that would happen. I think one reason for the popularity of the initiative process is frustration over legislative inaction.”At one point during the discussion of flaws in the constitutional amendment process, committee member Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said he understood why they are popular.For example, Gelber said, proponents of the class-size amendment “never got a hearing before this body,” and yet Florida “is the very worst in class size.. . . Clearly we could have done this by statute, but we chose not to give hearings. Why can’t we create a process that allows citizens to address us, that gives them another avenue?” Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, bristled at the suggestion that legislators aren’t responsive to the people they represent.“I keep hearing the frustration of the legislative process that we won’t act. I have to respond. Many of these special interests have been brought here. The representative elected by the people told the special interests ‘no,’ so they went and found another way to ask the question. I resent [the suggestion] that we don’t do our jobs.”The Judiciary Committee will continue to consider changes to the amendment process at future meetings.“Today is just the beginning of our discussion on these very weighty public policy issues. We will then embark upon, in the next committee meetings, a very detailed analysis of these issues. We look forward to working with any persons or organizations who are interested in the constitutional initiative process and the amendment process,” Simmons said.
Congrats to Batesville Bulldog Swimmer Matt Weiler on placing 15th in The 50 Yard Freestyle at The Boys Swimming State Finals in Indy.This is Matt’s 2nd appearance in The State Finals.Also-Congrats to Coach TJ Greene as well as to Matt Weiler from the Sports Voice-Country 103.9 WRBI!
Brynn Anderson/AP PLANTATION, Florida – At least 23 people were injured and storefronts damaged in a suspected gas explosion on Saturday (July 5) afternoon at a shopping mall in South Florida.The explosion happened around 11:30 AM local time at the Pizza Fire restaurant, a local pizza place at the Fountains Mall in Plantation, about six miles west of Fort Lauderdale.Pizza Fire had been out of business for several months, and when first responders showed up to the scene at noon, they found the restaurant nearly demolished. The adjacent gym, LA Fitness was also damaged.Plantation Fire rescue originally called the explosion a gas explosion, and officials say ruptured gas lines were found in the rubble, but it has not been confirmed if the explosion was caused by a gas leak, officials said.The blast was powerful enough to fling debris across the street from the complex. Video shows heavy damage to an LA Fitness and surrounding buildings. Plantation Police say all stores and businesses in the area are shut down until they are deemed safe.Breaking: Injuries reported after a gas explosion at The Fountains Shopping Center in Plantation, Florida. pic.twitter.com/frwFq2XS64— Alphidius ?????? (@AlfidioValera) July 6, 2019First responders believe everyone is accounted for, but they are still searching the buildings. Police are also asking residents to avoid the area if possible.