2 Hot Topics Head for Ballot in November; Proposed Constitutional Amendments Would Boost Anti-Tobacco Funding and Create a Redistricting Commission

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Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING

TALLAHASSEE -- Floridians will get a chance this November to play legislator on two hot topics in Tallahassee: Should political districts be drawn by politicians and should Florida spend more to keep kids away from tobacco?

State elections officials on Thursday verified that the two proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution met the required 611,009 signatures to land on the fall general election ballot. The state Supreme Court will review the redistricting proposal Thursday and the tobacco proposal on March 8 to verify they meet state law requirements.

But it is close to certain that the questions will end up before voters in some form in November, and that has supporters elated and Republican lawmakers mostly angry. GOP legislators have consistently railed against citizen-driven amendments, saying they subvert their rightful budgeting powers and are too easily dominated by special interests.

Amendment supporters say they were forced to make legislators answer popular demand. The tobacco measure, for example, is an attempt to reverse a consistent slide in the amount of money the Republican-controlled Legislature has appropriated for anti-tobacco programs. In recent years, legislators have spent $1 million a year on the programs -- an average of 26 cents for each of the state's 3.7 million residents younger than 18.

If voters approve the amendment, state legislators would be forced to devote 15 percent of Florida's 1997 tobacco settlement fund, or about $56 million annually, to anti-tobacco efforts. Cheryl Forchilli, campaign manager for the Tampa-based Floridians for Youth Tobacco Education group, said the American Cancer Association, American Heart Association and American Lung Association are pushing the measure after years of being ignored.

"They hesitated to use this option, but they said, 'You know what, this enjoys widespread public support and the Legislature refuses to do the right thing,' " Forchilli said. "The fact that 650,000 voters supported this in five months should send a pretty strong signal about that."

State records show a total of 650,403 signatures for the tobacco measure have been verified, far surpassing the required total of 611,009. …