Florida voters will probably face a major decision in 2010 about future development now that backers of a proposed constitutional amendment have won a major court victory.
But the battle over growth, whether at the ballot or in the courts, is far from over.
The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a law that let residents revoke their signatures on constitutional amendment ballot petitions. The ruling clears the way for the Hometown Democracy initiative to get on the ballot next year.
The amendment would require that all changes to a city or county long-term growth plan be approved by voters.
“I personally don’t think it’s that radical, but it does go to the heart of the developer power which has the ability to get what they want from city and county commissions,” said Palm Beach lawyer Lesley Blackner, co-author of the proposal. She has spent almost six years and nearly $1 million of her own money to get the initiative on the ballot.
Opponents, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, persuaded the legislature to pass the signature-revocation law specifically to try to thwart Hometown Democracy. They warn that the amendment would cause a permanent recession by halting development.
The high court has not yet issued a written opinion outlining the reasons for its 4-2 decision. But it upheld an appellate court ruling that found the signature-revocation law unconstitutional.
Now, voters may face a virtual Pandora’s box of ballot proposals for 2010.
Floridians for Smarter Growth, backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, is considering a counter-initiative. It would let residents vote on a growth-plan change only if 10 percent or more of a community’s registered voters signed a petition.
Meanwhile, the business-backed group Save Our Constitution, funded mainly by Associated Industries of Florida, wants to get an amendment on the ballot that would allow voters to put signature revocation into the constitution.
The competing ballot items are likely to yield one of the nastiest constitutional amendment showdowns in recent history.
“Hometown Democracy is essentially a proposal to freeze the status quo in place. … To say this is an economic catastrophe is probably a gross understatement,” said Ryan Houck, executive director of Floridians for Smarter Growth. “We believe this proposal is so bad for Florida’s economy that we will run a full-on campaign to defeat it at the polls.”
Associated Industries CEO and President Barney Bishop said his group is awaiting the Supreme Court’s formal opinion before deciding whether to ask for a rehearing.
Blackner and her supporters “were unabashed in their willingness to do anything and everything to get this on the ballot,” Bishop said. “But just be prepared. We’re going to use the same tactics they did. So better sleep with one eye open. ‘Cause we’re coming at you.”