|Originally Published: 23 April 2008 |
Associated Press Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- People cannot take back their support once they sign petitions to get citizen initiatives on a ballot, an appeals court ruled Wednesday in a case over whether voters should have a say in changing infrastructure and development plans.
The 1st District Court of Appeal said a law that let people take back their signatures is unconstitutional, so it overturned a trial court's ruling.
The Legislature passed the law at the request of business organizations. They then used it to revoke thousands of signatures obtained by proponents of Hometown Democracy, an initiative that would require voter approval of changes in plans laying out where new roads, homes, businesses and other development can be built. Hometown Democracy then sued.
The appeals court's seven-page ruling said revoking signatures burdens the initiative process with requirements not found in the Florida Constitution. Instead, the constitution gives citizens the right to propose amendments without legislative assistance.
"The court got it right," said Ross Burnaman, co-founder of the Hometown Democracy political action committee.
Barney Bishop III, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, was a leader in the signature revocation effort. He said it allowed people to change their minds "because they perhaps weren't told the real truth at the time to begin with."
Burnaman, of Tallahassee, and fellow lawyer Lesley Blackner, of Palm Beach, started the initiative as a response to public officials they believed were too willing to give developers everything they want while ignoring citizen protests.
But in an all-out effort to defeat the proposal, builders, developers and other business leaders wrote and called petition signers to suggest they had made a mistake.
Hometown Democracy narrowly missed the 2008 ballot after Secretary of State Kurt Browning rejected a request to delay ballot certification until all signatures submitted before the Feb. 1 deadline were verified.
The law is one of several steps the Legislature has taken in recent years with encouragement from business leaders to make it more difficult to pass initiatives. They contend initiatives such as Hometown Democracy could slow growth and the harm the state's economy.
Burnaman and Bishop agreed the issue may wind up being resolved by the Florida Supreme Court.
"We're not out of the game yet," Bishop said.
Associated Press Writer Bill Kaczor contributed to this report.