The measure cleared the House on a 71-41 vote and now moves to the Senate, where a similar bill is pending. GOP supporters called it a necessary tightening of petition drive rules that would clarify when out-of-state interests are involved.
"I see it as allowing our citizens to understand why these petitions are being circulated and who's circulating them," said Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Beverly Hills. ""If I were going to sign a petition, I would want to know where it comes from."
Democrats, however, cast it as an improper roadblock to the ability of citizens to participate directly in their government, especially when the Legislature refuses to act on certain high-profile issues. Recent examples include successful petition initiatives approving medical marijuana and restoration of most ex-felons' voting rights.
"Don't try to silence the voice of the people. We need to respect our democracy," said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Winter Park Democrat.
Among other things, the bill would require all paid petition gatherers to register with the Department of State. The ballot would have to name the initiative's sponsor, state how many out-of-state petition gatherers were used, and describe the percentage of money raised for the initiative from Floridians.
A petition drive sponsor could be charged with a third-degree felony for willfully submitting false information or failing to disclose required information. It would be a misdemeanor to pay signature gatherers based on the number of petitions they collect.
Opponents of these new restrictions say existing hurdles already make it difficult to mount a successful petition drive.
Current law requires petitioners to gather more than 766,000 signatures to place a proposed amendment on the ballot, and they must come from at least 14 of the state's 27 congressional districts. An amendment must then win approval of 60 percent of voters to become part of the Florida Constitution.
"We are trying to solve a problem that does not exist," said Rep. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat.
Another bill pending in the Republican-dominated Legislature would place a question on the 2020 ballot asking voters to raise the threshold to change the constitution from 60 percent to two-thirds approval.
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