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Florida governor OK’s stricter thresholds on ballot measures

April 9, 2020 GMT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a slate of bills into law Wednesday, including one that would make it more difficult to place citizen initiatives on the ballot and another that would extend the life of the agency that promotes tourism in a state already hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

In an email sent late Wednesday, the governor’s press office announced that DeSantis signed seven bills into law.

In addition to keeping Visit Florida operating for another three years and raising the threshold on ballot measures, the governor approved sales tax “holidays” that would reduce state revenues by about $50 million and he gave his blessings to fireworks legally going off on New Year’s Day and July Fourth.

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Dozens of other bills await the governor’s consideration, but the Republican-controlled Legislature sends legislation incrementally as a courtesy to the governor.

During its session, legislative Republicans muscled through new thresholds for placing constitutional amendments on the ballot. That includes higher triggers for judicial review of proposed initiatives and expanding requirements on where signatures are gathered to qualify a measure for the ballot.

Under the new law, which went into effect with the governor’s signature Wednesday, the state Supreme Court will only review a proposed ballot measure after proponents have collected a fourth of the total number of signatures required — more than double the current 10% threshold.

In addition, supporters will need to collect valid signatures from at least half of the state’s 27 congressional districts, up from a fourth.

The increased burden could make it more difficult to place ballot initiatives on statewide ballots this year.

Citizens initiatives allow voters to weigh in on policy matters — and create statewide law — that lawmakers don’t take up.

Most recently, the initiative process allowed felons to regain the right to vote — although the 2018 measure has been mired in legal battles between proponents and DeSantis after he and legislative Republicans enacted restrictions that specified that only felons without any legal financial obligations would qualify to vote under the law known as “Amendment 4.”

The governor also signed into law a so-called sales tax holiday during a week-long period in May and June for disaster-preparation purchases and again in August for “back-to-school” purchases.

The tax package would reduce state revenues by an estimated $47.4 million, which is less than what had been initially proposed as lawmakers looked to fatten the state’s reserves amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The outbreak has already wrought havoc on the state’s economy but still uncertain is how it will effect state revenues.

The outbreak has already severely damaged one of the state’s revenue producers: tourism.

While some lawmakers for years had sought to dismantle the state’s tourism agency, Visit Florida, the Legislature gave it a reprieve by extending its life for another three years.

The agency, which markets tourism, was supposed to have expired July 1.

Less controversially, the governor signed a bill into law that would allow holiday revelers to light fireworks on New Year’s Day and July Fourth — without having to lie. State law had required buyers to sign waivers attesting that they only would use fireworks for such things as scaring birds away from fields.

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