House Panel Targets Constitutional Amendments

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers Tuesday began moving forward with a ballot proposal that would make it harder to change the state Constitution and another that would expand a property-tax break.

The House Ethics, Elections & Open Government Subcommittee approved a proposal (HJR 129) that seeks to require approval from 66.67 percent of voters to amend the Constitution, up from the current 60 percent. Earlier, the House Ways & Means Committee approved a proposed property-tax change directed at low-income seniors.

Rep. Rick Roth, a West Palm Beach Republican who is sponsoring the proposal to make it harder to change the Constitution, said that “for Americans to remain free and be protected from our own government, we must hold our U.S. and Florida Constitution as sacred.”

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“I think we can all agree that the legislative process is superior to our constitutional amendment process, because it brings more facts, more resources,” Roth said. “Once a constitutional amendment is on the ballot, we can’t amend it. We can’t debate it.”

Under Roth’s proposal, repeal of prior changes to the Constitution would not require approval of 66.67 percent of voters. Repeal efforts would be subject to the same requirements that were in place when the amendments initially passed.

In the past, amendments could be approved by a majority of voters. But in 2006, that was upped to 60 percent.

Last year, three proposed constitutional changes — involving homestead property taxes, property assessments and a repeal of the state Constitution Revision Commission — did not get the required 60 percent support to pass.

If lawmakers approve Roth’s proposal during the legislative session that starts March 7, it would go on the 2024 ballot because it, in itself, would require changing the Constitution.

Critics of Roth’s proposal contend, in part, it would make it easier for small groups of opponents to scuttle proposed constitutional amendments.

“This is raising the bar to an extreme level,” said Letitia Harmon, Florida Rising policy and research director. “This is raising the threshold for how we get our voices heard and how we have rights that reflect our needs in our communities as a part of the structure of our government.”

House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said Monday the proposal would eliminate a “critical path” for Floridians to make changes in government.

“The constitutional amendment process allows people who may have a minority opinion to take their idea to the open market and see if they can get the support of the people to get it passed,” Driskell said. “And especially in a state like Florida, where Republicans have had such a strong hold on our government for decades, it can be very difficult to get big sweeping policies passed.”

Supporters of the proposal said that as Florida grows, it should become more difficult for special-interest groups to change the Constitution.

“The reality is, folks, one person, a small group of people with an awful lot of money can make a very damaging change to the Constitution,” Rep. Jeff Holcomb, R-Spring Hill, said.

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Roth backed similar legislation the past three sessions. His 2021 proposal got through committees but was not taken up on the House floor.

The Ways & Means Committee, meanwhile, backed a ballot proposal (HJR 159), filed by Rep. David Borrero, R-Sweetwater, (HJR 159) that would increase an existing homestead property-tax exemption for low-income seniors who have lived in their homes for long periods of time.

The state Revenue Estimating Conference projects local governments statewide would see revenues drop a total of $5.7 million annually if Borrero’s proposal is approved by voters.

Another proposed property-tax change is slated to go before the Senate Community Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

That proposal (SJR 122), filed by Sen. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, would cap annual increases in assessed property values at 2 percent or the change in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.

Since voters in 1992 approved the Save Our Homes constitutional amendment, the cap has been 3 percent or the change in the Consumer Price Index.

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