Florida Senate Bill 2340 (2008)
Senate Bill 2340 would have required that all paid initiative petition signature gatherers pay a fee, register with the state, and be December a registration number to appear on petition forms. Paid petitioners would also have to be residents of Florida, United States citizens, and could not be convicted felons who are ineligible to vote, none of which is currently required.
Any violations of rules by paid petitioners would have automatically invalidated signatures they collected.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Bill Posey (R-Rockledge), the same lawmaker who sponsored the 2007 bill that allowed voters to revoke their signatures from initiative petitions. That law was the subject of a lawsuit in the First District Court of Appeal initiated by Hometown Democracy, which narrowly failed to make the November 2008 ballot with its initiative.
Sen. Posey said of Bill 2340, "If you're true grass roots, it doesn't affect you. It just affects the big special interests that hire bounty hunters to go out and get petitions and pay them by the body -- that's the only person it regulates."
The Florida Chamber and Florida Home Builders both testified in support of the bill at a Senate Ethics and Elections Committee hearing April 1, 2008.
John French, an election-law specialist representing Save Our Constitution, a group that fought Hometown Democracy, also spoke at the hearing, calling paid signature-gatherers "gypsies" who "start in California and just go from state to state. We really need to know who these people are. We have to have some accountability," he said.
As a main argument of backing the bill, supporters referenced a 2007 report made by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, based in Washington DC. The report on increased incidents of petition fraud focused on Florida and four other states, citing one incident of Florida circulators being arrested after submitting over 1,300 fraudulent signed petitions.
Adam Babington, director of coalitions and initiatives for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, voiced his support as well: "We owe it to people as a matter of public safety to restrict felons from collecting people's personal information."
Several groups testified against the bill at the April 1 hearing, including the Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, Florida PIRG, and the League of Women Voters.
Opponents questioned the logistics of the bill. While the bill would have invalidated signatures that were collected by barred participants, it would not have punished the petition gatherers who broke the rules.
As Brad Ashwell, legislative advocate of the Florida Public Interest Research Group, said, this would punish the wrong person, the voter: "There is no reason for this to go forward if it is going to disenfranchise voters. You can see what they're really trying to do. They just don't like this process. They don't like the fact that citizens can sidestep the legislative process."
"Why do we need to keep making the process more difficult?" Jared Ross of the American Cancer Society, asked. The American Cancer Society used paid circulators in 2006 to win passage of a constitutional amendment that revived Florida's anti-tobacco education campaign.
Opponents argued that due to the state's signature threshold, which was more than 611,000 voters for the 2008 general election, it was nearly impossible to get an initiative on the ballot without the use of paid petition circulators.
The bill is currently in the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.
- Procedures for qualifying an initiative in Florida
- Laws governing the initiative process in Florida
- Florida 2008 ballot measures