Hometown Democracy Proposal Goes to Voters

By Michael Peltier
The News Service of Florida

Ballot casters going to the polls in November 2010 will be asked whether changes to local comprehensive plans must be approved by local voters, state election officials announced Monday.

A week after the Florida Supreme Court ended a legal challenge to its initiative, Florida Hometown Democracy officials received notice from the Department of State saying their petition has a new name. Now called Amendment 4, the proposal will greet voters at the polls for the 2010 general election.

The New Smyrna-based group can now turn its full attention to a business-backed opposition movement that contends the measure will grind local development to a halt. Opponents of the Hometown Democracy effort have their own ballot push for a competing amendment.

Monday’s notification was especially sweet for Hometown Democracy co-founder Lesley Blackner, whose efforts have faced repeated review by the Florida Supreme Court and stiffening opposition from local and state lawmakers.

Last week’s 4-2 ruling by the state’s highest court ended 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.

“Every session the Legislature has changed the rules on citizens’ initiatives, making it harder and harder to change the constitution,” Blackner said.

Monday’s development was also seen as a rallying cry for opponents who say Amendment 4, if approved, would require even minor changes to local development rules to get citizen approval. Such delays will translate into scuttled projects and fewer jobs, the ripple effects of which will be felt across the state, opponents say.

“The ‘Vote on Everything’ amendment could mean a permanent recession for Florida’s economy,” said Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and treasurer of Floridians for Smarter Growth, which is crafting its own constitutional amendment to supersede the Hometown Democracy proposal.

Blackner called disingenuous Smarter Growth efforts to propose its own amendment that would require voters to first turn in petitions from 10 percent of eligible voters before they could seek a referendum on local comp plan changes.

The chamber-backed initiative’s ballot language has been approved by the Florida Supreme Court, but the group still lacks the 676,811 verified signatures it needs to get on the ballot. Given the business-based group’s deep pockets and 443,510 verified signatures so far, it is likely to do so by the Feb.1 2010 deadline.