Reforms Give Florida a Fighting Chance Against No-Growth Bids
Staring down the barrel of a “Hometown Democracy” amendment that would devastate the state’s economy by subjecting all city and county comprehensive plan changes to a voter referendum, builders in Florida are hoping that recent reforms in the petition process will help keep the potentially disastrous proposal off the ballot in the November 2008 elections.
For years, Florida ’s state constitution has been one of the easiest to amend in the country, with a low 50% voter approval threshold and lax petition signature gathering standards Special protections for pregnant pigs and impractical bullet train plans not only have made it onto the ballot but have actually been passed by Florida voters.
A late qualification deadline for signatures also allowed interest groups to sneak in amendments close to Election Day, putting opponents at a disadvantage in organizing and financing voter education campaigns. In 2004, a joint resolution of the Florida legislature imposed a Feb. 1 qualification deadline for amendments appearing on the November ballot, which was eventually approved by the voters.
In 2006, NAHB, the Florida Home Builders Association and other interested groups developed an amendment to raise the threshold for approving an amendment from 50% to 60% to bring Florida’s amendment process closer in line with those in other states and to discourage unnecessary tampering with the constitution. The amendment made the November 2006 ballot and passed, ironically, with approval by 57.9% of the voters.
With the 50% voter approval rule in force, Florida voters had approved every constitutional amendment on the ballot since 1996.
Most recently, during their 2007 session, Florida legislatures tackled problems with the signature gathering process stipulated for amendment drives by passing several reforms that were a top priority for the builders association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and others.
Increasingly employed by anti-growth advocates and other special interests to bring controversial measures before the electorate, signature gathering has become a multi-million dollar business across the country. Gatherers are usually paid by the signature, opening up opportunities for fraud and deceit when the process is not closely regulated.
Among the items that will help control signature gathering:
- Senate Bill 900 requires a petition to be turned in to the supervisor of elections within 30 days of being signed by a voter, preventing signature gathering firms from holding petition forms for months or even years before submitting them. The bill also creates a revocation process allowing voters to remove their signatures from petitions with which they have come to disagree. Voters may revoke their signatures within 120 days after the petition form is verified by the supervisor of elections.
- House Bill 537 requires supervisors of elections to verify signatures within 30 days of receiving the petition forms. It also set forth the requirements for a valid petition form, including the original signature of the voter; the date on which the form was signed; and the name, address, county and voter registration or date of birth of the voter who signed the form. It also requires the signer to be a registered voter in the county in which the form is submitted.
- Senate Bill 1920 ensures that private property owners have the right to bar individuals from engaging in canvassing on their property. This bill codified existing case law in Florida, and provides additional protection to private property owners who have struggled with signature gatherers who hassle and impede their customers and employees.
For more information, e-mail Gideon Lett at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8585.