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Florida Lawmakers Back Restrictions On Ballot Drives

Changing the Florida Constitution with citizen-led ballot initiatives could soon be harder under a proposal that cleared a Senate panel Monday on a party-line vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to require petition-gatherers to be Florida residents and to register with the secretary of state, a move that would prevent the involvement of out-of-state petition firms.

Judiciary Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the bill aims to ensure “transparency for voters.” The proposal (SB 7096) would require ballots to include the names of the initiatives’ sponsors and the percentages of in-state contributions.

Related: More news from Florida's Legislature

The proposal, which would impact ballot initiatives in 2020, comes after voters approved 11 constitutional amendments, including two citizen initiatives, in November.

It could affect proposals such as 2020 ballot initiative that would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The American Civil Liberties Union in Florida, which opposes the Senate measure and a similar bill in the House, argued the Republican-led effort in the Legislature is meant to limit citizen participation.

“It is designed to make it harder for the citizens of Florida to participate in direct democracy,” said Kara Gross, the ACLU’s legislative director and senior policy counsel in Florida.

Republican members of the Senate panel, however, disagreed and said it is about preserving Florida’s Constitution and having a transparent process.

“I am absolutely convinced that this is an area that got out of control,” Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said. “I am here to protect the Florida Constitution.”

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