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The State We're In connects with people in Central Florida and the greater Tampa Bay region about issues that matter to you. From the coronavirus to special coverage of politics along the I-4 corridor, it’s a chance to hear your neighbors, and better understand their experience.The State We’re In is a collaboration of WUSF Public Media in Tampa and 90.7 WMFE in Orlando and is part of America Amplified, a national community engagement and reporting initiative supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.[Join Us On Facebook]

What Is Florida’s Amendment 4, The Voter Approval Of Constitutional Amendments?

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ILLUSTRATION BY RYAN ELLISON/WMFE

Critics say Amendment 4 would put an end to citizen-led amendments to the Florida constitution.

Ballot summary: Requires all proposed amendments or revisions to the state constitution to be approved by the voters in two elections, instead of one, in order to take effect. The proposal applies the current threshold of 60% for passage to each of the two elections.

How do constitutional amendments in Florida work now?

Citizens can put constitutional amendments on the ballot in Florida, but the threshold is pretty high. Groups must get signatures from 8% of the number of voters who cast a ballot in the last presidential election. That means groups had to collect 766,200 valid signatures of registered voters to appear on the 2020 ballot, and those signatures have to be geographically spread across the state. The Florida Supreme Court must also review a ballot amendment to make sure it isn’t misleading or combining unrelated issues. Once on the ballot, a supermajority of voters – 60% – must approve a constitutional amendment for it to become part of Florida’s constitution.

What would change if Amendment 4 passes?

Amendment 4 would add another layer to getting a constitutional amendment passed: Voters would have to approve an amendment twice, in two consecutive elections, to take effect. Currently, only Nevada has a similar process of requiring constitutional amendments to be approved twice.

Every state allows for the state constitution to be amended, but only 18 have a mechanism where citizens (or, in reality, political committees) can put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Most state constitutions are amended by proposals from the state Legislature or special commissions.

Ballotpedia has a comprehensive look at the different ways states amend their constitutions here.

Who is behind this amendment?

Keep Our Constitution Clean is the political committee sponsoring the amendment.

Jason Zimmerman, an attorney representing the sponsor Keep Our Constitution Clean, said in an interview with The State We’re In that groups are amending the Florida Constitution when they should be going through the Florida Legislature.

“If this is something so important we should amend the Constitution, do it twice,” Zimmerman said. “Constitutional amendments should not be done fly-by-night.”

But who is funding the amendment?

Keep Our Constitution Clean has spent nearly $9 million in so-called “dark money” getting the signatures to be on the 2020 ballot. That means the donors funding it legally don’t have to be disclosed.

Zimmerman declined to elaborate on the financial backers, only saying it has bipartisan support. He argued that details on who is funding the amendment doesn’t matter because people know what the amendment would do.

“Why does the motive of one or two people matter when we’re looking at what the amendment actually does?” Zimmerman said.

Orlando Sentinel reporter Jason Garcia has found a series of links between Keep Our Constitution Clean and Associated Industries of Florida, through a third-party group called A Better Miami Dade. A Better Miami Dade donated $150,000 to Keep Our Constitution Clean in 2018, the most recent year records were available.

AIF is an influential lobbying group headed by former Central Florida Congressman Tom Feeney. It’s membership includes some of Florida’s biggest companies, from Walt Disney World to Florida Power and Light to U.S. Sugar Corp.

“Businesses have been upset by a number of petition drives over the years, and there has been a concerted, strategic and coordinated effort by business lobbying groups since the early 2000s to make this process more difficult,” Garcia said.

Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman for Associated Industries of Florida, said in a statement that AIF has no connection to Keep Our Constitution Clean.

“AIF has no affiliation with the group. None,” Bascom wrote in an email. “Not sure why we would comment on [an] article claiming the groups are linked when they are not. Not being difficult, just not sure how much more clear we can be.”

Who is against this amendment?

No groups filed arguments against the petition in the Florida Supreme Court, and there doesn’t seem to be an organized opposition to the amendment. The League of Women Voters opposes the amendment, arguing that it would put an end to the citizen-led constitutional amendment process.

“To have two separate elections to get one amendment passed makes no sense whatsoever, and is just going to completely nail shut the coffin on the citizen initiative process,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Is it too easy to amend Florida’s constitution?

That is debatable. To get enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot is a multi-million dollar effort. In 2020, two of the six amendments have sponsors who spent millions of dollars to get them onto the ballot.

Aubrey Jewett, author of the Politics in Florida textbook, says from 1972 on, a little less than half of Constitutional Amendments passed. But in recent history, there are fewer amendments that make it onto the ballot. But the ones that do get on the ballot have a higher likelihood of passage.

Jewett said that personally, he supported increasing the threshold to approve a constitutional amendment from 50% to 60%. But now he worries the pendulum is swinging too far in the other direction.

“I’m a little concerned that maybe we’re … making it a little too difficult for people to exercise direct democracy,” Jewett said. “(Direct democracy) is part of the checks and balances in the Florida system.”

Where can I get more information?

This story is part of The State We’re In, an elections reporting initiative from WUSF and WMFE in Orlando. It’s produced in partnership with America Amplified, an initiative using community engagement to inform local journalism. It is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. On Facebook, follow The State We’re In page and join the conversation in the group.