Groups Ready for Battle on Comp Plan Amendment
The battle over a proposed amendment requiring voters to approve local comprehensive plan changes moves from the courtroom to the ballot box following a Florida Supreme Court ruling that clears the way for an expected clash on the controversial proposal.
The court threw out a law that allows voters to change their minds after signing petitions to get proposed amendments to the constitution on the ballot.
Following that ruling late Wednesday, leaders of Florida Hometown Democracy said they will redouble efforts to put their issue before voters in 2010. The group had been concerned that opponents would convince many voters to pull their names from the group’s petitions, keeping the measure from qualifying for the ballot.
“We are excited that Florida voters will finally have the opportunity to have a vote on growth,” said Lesley Blackner, co-founder of the group. “The Hometown Democracy Amendment will simply give voters a say on how their community is planned and only applies to changes to local comprehensive land use plans.”
A pair of business-backed groups, formed to counter Hometown Democracy’s petition drive, say they will try just as hard to make sure the measure fails.
"This proposal would take an enormous toll on Florida's economy," said Ryan Houck, executive director for Floridians for Smarter Growth.. "If passed, it may leave our state in a permanent recession."
Wednesday’s 4-2 ruling by the state’s highest court ends a drive to whittle away at Hometown Democracy’s signature base by allowing voters to rescind their previous support. Though it did not elaborate, the high court’s ruling upheld a lower court opinion that a 2006 law allowing voters to revoke their signatures was unconstitutional.
The Secretary of State has withheld certification of the Hometown Democracy amendment until the revocation issue was settled by the courts. Both sides agree that the issue, the language of which has already been vetted by the Supreme Court, will now head toward the ballot.
In anticipation of such a development, Smarter Growth has come up with a counter proposal that would allow voter approval of comprehensive plan changes only if 10 percent of local voters sign on to a petition within 60 days.
Backers say the measure, which is written to supercede Hometown Democracy’s effort, would offer voters access to the ballot without requiring that noncontroversial changes be put up for a vote.
Blackner said the Smarter Growth amendment would have the opposite effect by making it difficult for grassroots, low budget efforts to secure the needed votes in within the time frame.
"This ridiculous proposal pretends to give a vote on growth but the devil is in the details,” Blackner said. “Many, many Floridians, including the home-bound and military deployed abroad, will be excluded by design from participating in any such citizen-petition process," she added.
Meanwhile, another business-backed group, Save our Constitution, says it will seek a constitutional amendment giving voters the right to change their minds and revoke previous written support for petitions – to essentially undo what the court did this week.
“Signature revocation must be an integral part of the petition process if the true will of the voters is to be expressed,” said John French, SOC general counsel. “Without this vital component, petition signers who are misled, who mistakenly sign a petition, or who simply change their minds have no recourse to remove their names from that petition.”