Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lobbyists May Start Amendments Campaign New Proposals Have Businesses Worried

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lobbyists May Start Amendments Campaign New Proposals Have Businesses Worried

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Saunders, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida businesses could launch a multimillion-dollar campaign this fall that would try to defeat all proposed state constitutional amendments on the November ballot, two influential lobbyists said yesterday.

Former House Speaker John Thrasher and Associated Industries of Florida President Jon Shebel said they have been involved in discussions that could lead to a "Just Say No" campaign that would urge voters to kill all of the proposed amendments.

Those amendments call for such things as requiring smaller school class sizes, banning smoking in restaurants and possibly overhauling the state's sales-tax system. Businesses fear that some of the amendments could lead to higher taxes or, in the case of the smoking ban, unwanted regulation.

"We're in the planning stages right now," said Thrasher, an Orange Park Republican who served as speaker from 1998 to 2000. "Stay tuned."

Shebel, whose group is one of the most powerful lobbies in Florida, said he doesn't know whether businesses will launch the campaign. With a statewide campaign costing as much as $15 million, Shebel said a large part of the decision will depend on whether businesses want to pay for it.

"All I can tell you is it would cost a lot of money," Shebel said.

But Sen. Kendrick Meek, a Miami Democrat who is trying to pass an amendment requiring smaller class sizes, said he doesn't think the "everyday business owner wants to go out and do something that is going to hurt their own children."

"I know that this is not the majority position of the business community in Florida," Meek said.

Edie Ousley, a spokeswoman for a group trying to pass an amendment ending smoking in restaurants and other workplaces, said voters would see through such a campaign.

"These same Tallahassee insiders are obsessed with thwarting the voice of the people," Ousley said. "They want to keep the power among the select few."

Business groups and some state leaders have become increasingly worried in recent months about a series of citizen-initiated amendments that could go on the ballot in November. …

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