Hometown Democracy Amendment Clears Final Judicial Hurdle
Following seven hearings and several years, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for a proposal to ask voters next year to change the constitution to require a local vote before a change to an area’s comprehensive plan.
By unanimous vote, the state’s highest court approved a financial impact statement that must accompany the proposal - now dubbed Amendment 4 - to the ballot box. It was the third time the court had been asked to approve the financial statement after rejecting previous efforts.
Backers of the proposal said the court’s ruling allows them to focus all their attention on convincing voters to approve the amendment and reject a rival proposal backed by business groups that would render their own initiative moot.
“We’ve been three times on this merry-go-round, I’m glad it’s over,” said Lesley Blackner, co-founder of Florida Hometown Democracy. “Now we get to go to the people.”
The proposal would require local voters to approve all changes to comprehensive plans, which regulate local growth. Backers say the process is now weighted too heavily in favor of developers and deep-pocket clients who can lobby local officials to get what they want.
Critics say Amendment 4 would paralyze local growth by requiring approval of even minor changes to local development rules. Such delays would translate into scuttled projects and fewer jobs, the ripple effects of which will be felt across the state, they say.
Florida law requires that ballot initiatives expected to have a fiscal impact be accompanied by a statement to voters on a proposal’s potential costs. In this case, impact statements, estimated by a panel of state economists, were twice rejected by the high court for being misleading, speculative or unduly vague.
The most recent filing, however, suffers from none of those defects.
“While the financial impact statement clearly notes that local governments will incur additional costs to conduct referenda, it simply lists those items that will clearly be required by the plan amendment…” the court wrote in a group opinion. “The financial impact statement no longer speculates on these expenses, acknowledging that the precise cost is highly variable and listing the factors upon which the costs depend.”
The ruling was the second victory for Hometown Democracy in less than a month. In June, the court in a 4-2 ruling ended a drive to whittle away at Hometown Democracy's signature base by allowing voters to rescind their previous support.
Business groups led by the Florida Chamber of Commerce have launched a competing proposal that would allow voters to challenge comp plan amendments only if they can muster petitions from 10 percent of affected voters within a 60-day window. The Chamber proposal is written to nullify the provisions of Amendment 4 if both measures pass.
The Chamber-backed initiative's ballot language has been approved by the Florida Supreme Court, but the group still is about 200,000 signatures short of the 676,811 verified signatures it needs by Feb. 1 to get on the ballot.