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Published on: News

Protect Citizen Initiative Process

published on: March 29, 2021

The comments below were given to the House Public Integrity and Elections committee and on March 29, 2021 by Deputy Director Jonathan Webber.

FCV opposes this bill because it will only make it harder for citizens to act on their constitutional right to the initiative process.

HB 61

According to Robert G. Natelson, former Professor of Law at the University of Montana Law School and a contributor to the Federalist Society, the authors of our nation’s founding documents found the concept of direct democracy compatible with the United States Constitution but left the option of using direct democracy to the individual states. These great American thinkers had a basic definition of a “republic,” which included three things: 1) ultimate control by the people, which means by majority or plurality rule, 2) the absence of a monarch, and  3) the rule of law. According to Natelson, if those elements are present, the government is republican for constitutional purposes, whether the legislative power is vested in representatives exclusively, in the people exclusively, or as is the case in most states today (like Florida), in some combination thereof. This is backed up by James Madison in Federalist Paper 43. And from what I can understand, the concept of supermajorities was, at a minimum, problematic to those same people, especially Alexander Hamilton, who touched upon this in Federalist Paper No 22 and called the concept of supermajorities a “poison.” Hamilton writes: “It is not difficult to discover, that a principle of this kind gives greater scope to foreign corruption, as well as to domestic faction than that which permits the sense of the majority to decide; though the contrary of this has been presumed.”Of course, it’s impossible to tell what they would think about our predicament here today, but it’s fun to consider.

So, in practice, the bill you are voting on right now is a question that asks: do you believe that 34% of voters should be able to make a decision for our state that is in direct conflict to the wishes of 66% of voters in our state. That’s it. Right now, the Florida Democratic Party and Republican Party of Florida both make up about 35% each of registered voters in Florida – with the rest going to minor parties or those voters with no party affiliation. If this bill were to pass and it eventually became part of our constitution, it would mean that a single political party could decide the fate of a ballot question all by themselves, despite a broad and diverse coalition of voters on the other side. Something about that bothers us. If you really want to improve our system of direct democracy, I would suggest improving financial disclosure rules so the people of Florida can accurately track the monetary backers behind our initiative campaigns. That’s the place to start. Please vote no on this bill. Thank you for your time.

Want to help protect Floridian’s right to petition their government? Use our Find Your Legislator tool to message your lawmakers. You can also help fuel FCV’s on-the-ground lobbying work by making a gift.

Thank you, Conservation Voters!

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