Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida State Constitution guarantees the right of Floridians to propose constitutional amendments through a ballot initiative. Time and again, Florida voters of all political persuasions have used this process to improve their lives. From ensuring there is water and land conservation funding, to raising the minimum wage and restoring returning citizens’ voting rights, when the legislature refuses to act, the people will.
The citizens’ initiative process is core to our identity for Florida Conservation Voters and our members. As the economy rebounded from the shock of the Great Recession in the early 2010s, the state legislature failed to restore funding to our state’s most important conservation programs. This budget decision, supported by Governor Rick Scott, left millions of acres of critical conservation land unprotected and Everglades restoration severely underfunded.
The origin of our organization began in 2012 with the early beginnings of what would become the Water and Land Conservation Amendment – aka Amendment 1. With support from local, state, and national environmental nonprofits, our community decided that if the legislature wasn’t going to save our remaining natural areas, the people would by dedicating the necessary funding through a citizen initiative to amend the state constitution. Amendment 1 was designed to set aside a portion of taxes collected through real estate transactions for precisely this purpose. As Florida continues to grow and develop (as evidenced by real estate transactions over the last decade), most residents recognize and support the idea that the state should invest in protecting our most important lands and waters.
After an intense campaign, we were delighted to join in celebration with our friends, colleagues, allies, and more than 4.2 million people (nearly 75%) who voted in favor of Amendment 1 in November of 2014. We were pleased (but not surprised!) to see that this idea was wildly popular with Florida residents. Hundreds of volunteers and partner organizations joined our campaign to help collect more than a quarter million petitions to get the amendment on the ballot.
In Florida, all political power is inherent in the people. Amendment 1 was a response to a state legislature that was failing its core duty to protect our water and land resources. And we reserve that right as a necessary check on our state government. Many of the amendments that make it to the ballot box are not new ideas; they almost all started as bills in the legislature that didn’t pass or couldn’t get a single committee hearing.
Unfortunately, state legislators (and Governors) don’t like it when the people tell them what to do. That’s why lawmakers have sponsored dozens of bills over the past couple of decades to limit or restrict the citizens’ initiative process. Since this is a right guaranteed in the state constitution, lawmakers use statutory authority to bog down the process in bureaucracy, rules, and regulations. The ironic thing is that these laws only make the process more expensive, which further restricts citizens’ initiatives to the hands of billionaires and pushes them way out of reach to working Floridians.
Any interference by the state legislature into a right of citizens is unwelcome, especially when the framers of our state constitution designed this right as a check on the legislature itself. In recent years, we’ve seen lawmakers sponsor bills that would work to change the approval threshold on amendments to 66%. This year there is a proposal that, if enacted, would limit the scope of citizens’ initiatives to “procedural” issues and the “structure of the Government.”
The people have every right to know who supports and opposes each campaign. If reform is needed, we recommend starting with our campaign finance laws that currently allow special interests and mega-corporations to hide their campaign contributions through a maze of nonprofits and political committees.
FCV will always stand with the people in support of our citizens’ initiative process.