Monday, February 20, 2006

Florida to Throttle Amendments

Massachusetts (particularly right here) laments the abuse of the ballot initiative process. Half the states have such a process, which everywhere becomes subverted. Now, 1318 miles away, another state is poised to do something about it.

In Florida, even the GOP is sick of narrow interests passing initiatives and getting constitutional amendments on the ballot. These often commit a state to expensive and to discriminatory actions.

In the Bay State, we have seen recent repeated attempts to write marriage discrimination into the constitution for the first time ever. The initiatives' backers are political groups that suck susceptible voters into their vortices, down to the murky bottom. They get aid from unprincipled legislators who are ever willing to say "Let the voters decide" rather than lead and take responsibility.

In a fascinating twist, burned businesses have pressured Republican legislators into trying to make it far less easy to foist special-interest amendments on the Sunshine state.

Here, we found plenty of fraud in the most recent anti-same-sex-marriage initiative drive. Yet, the process has gotten as far as the first of two required General Court votes. Yet our inert legislators seem afraid to do more than add modest fines for such fraud, when what we need is initiative overhaul.

Well in Tallahassee, it looks as though they are about to get it. There, it was driven by the success of a socially progressive increase in the minimum wage. This fired up the business community, which in turn inspired the legislators who are beholden to it.

Note: The monkey's paw aspect of this in Massachusetts is the same. When we clean up the dirty initiative process that the ultra-right has been using successfully, progressive initiatives will also be harder to get to vote. Fair is fair.

The Florida reform would include:
  • Making paid signature gathers attest that they are registered voters.
  • Making them wear pins identifying them as paid collectors.
  • Fine fraudulent gatherers.
A second, related bill reappeared. It would restrict constitutional amendments to subjects already in the document.

"Special-interest groups have hijacked Florida's unique initiative process by hiring out-of-state professional signature-gathering firms," said fraud-bill sponsor Republican Majority Whip Sen. JD Alexander.

This effort couples with last year's one that shortened the time signature gatherers had. This is already cutting both ways. The GOP lawmakers are trying to keep progressives from preventing them from gerrymandering their districts. However, in the short term it seems to have prevented anti-gay, anti-SSM Florida4Marriage from getting an anti-SSM amendment on the November ballot.

Perhaps this will give our General Court a kick in the butt.

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