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Friday, June 21, 2024

Political experts challenge Florida's constitutional system in forum

Five political experts discussed the system used to change the state constitution and its effects on Florida at UF's Keene Faculty Center on Monday afternoon.

About 50 people attended the forum, which was sponsored by UF's Political Campaigning Program.

It featured former state Sen. Rod Smith, who was also a gubernatorial candidate in 2006; Mark Wilson, vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce; Damien Filer, consultant for the 2002 class-size amendment; and Mark Herron, attorney for Hometown Democracy.

Daniel Smith, a UF associate professor who teaches a class on state and local government, moderated the forum.

Daniel Smith, who also organized the event, said there have been tremendous changes made to the system, referred to as ballot initiatives, making it harder for Florida citizens to get measures on the ballot.

For example, he said, all constitutional amendments must exceed 60 percent of the state vote to pass as of 2006. This percent is referred to as the supermajority.

Rod Smith said he doesn't believe Florida's constitution should be subject to change so often, but he added that friends and foes of reforming the way citizens use ballot initiatives prefer flexibility in statutory amendments.

Rod Smith expressed disbelief over the state Legislature's decision to put complex issues on the ballot initiative.

Rod Smith mentioned Amendment X, which regulates the treatment of pregnant pigs in Florida, as an example of unnecessary amendments made to the state constitution.

"I don't have anything for or against pregnant pigs," Rod Smith said. "I guess they're a fine animal."

Herron said people simply want to participate in the decision-making that affects their lives, but special interest groups hijack the initiative process. He also mentioned how these groups take advantage of the system.

Groups can hire a firm for ,1.8 million that can guarantee the required signatures for the ballot.

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Wilson explained the ballot initiative process in detail, including the creation of a title and summary.

He said most people vote based solely on the way the title sounds.

"It doesn't matter what it actually does, just what it looks like and says," he said.

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