Some Pushing to Alter Policy on Amendments

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Marra, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- There are probably few things lawmakers hate more than being told what to do.

To be sure, many legislators are less than thrilled about their most recent constitutional mandate: building a high-speed rail system linking Florida's five largest urban areas.

Voters approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution last year requiring the state to begin construction on the system by November 2003. Lawmakers are concerned about the potential cost, which some estimate could be as high as $20 billion.

Now in the wake of that amendment, some lawmakers are proposing changing the way the state constitution is amended. Proposals include an attempt to require that amendments be approved by a higher percentage of voters and an effort to ensure people know the economic cost of every referendum before voting on it.

Ironically, both efforts take the form of proposed constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by voters to become law.

"If we do not address how issues are put in our constitution we are going to completely undermine the whole legislative process," said Rep. Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican.

Gardiner is sponsoring a bill that would let voters decide in 2002 whether future amendment proposals should need approval by three-fifths of voters, rather than the simple majority currently required. A Senate version of the bill calls for approval by two-thirds of voters.

Under Gardiner's criteria, the high-speed rail system amendment (which was approved by 53 percent of voters) would not have made the cut.

In fact, an analysis shows that, for better or worse, eight of the 19 constitutional amendments approved by voters since 1994 could not have passed the proposed three-fifths hurdle.

Gardiner said his bill would not stifle the ability of Floridians to amend their constitution, arguing that any truly sound amendment would be approved overwhelmingly anyway.

He is not alone among lawmakers in thinking that it is too easy to tack amendments onto the Florida Constitution.

"Maybe it ought to take more than a simple majority to change the highest law in the land," House Speaker Tom Feeney, an Oviedo Republican, said last week.

Still, some are skeptical of lawmakers' intentions. …