This election season, the one thing I heard over and over from our politicians was “we should not amend our state constitution with things like Medical Marijuana and money for land conservation. These things should be left up to the state legislature. Let us do our job.” And when pressed further, I would hear, “Do we really need how we handle pregnant pigs in our state constitution?” Makes a lot of sense, right? Practically speaking, they should be laws and not amendments. And for some voters in this past election, that was the mindset that they agreed with when they cast their vote to oppose the amendments on the ballot.
As innocent as it sounds, I would like to call our politicians’ bluff on this. Although the state legislature only proposed one amendment to our constitution this year, in 2012, they proposed 12. And those amendments included health care services, veterans homestead exemptions, religious freedom, tangible property tax exemptions, prohibition on public funding of abortion, and the appointment of a student body president to the board of Governors of the State University system. In 2010, they proposed six amendments. In 2008, they proposed three. In 2006, they proposed six. And so on and so on. For a group of people who want to be able to do their job by passing legislation, they really use the system when it seems to suit them.
There is a huge difference when the state legislature uses the option to amend our state constitution, as opposed to the citizens who use it. The main difference is that in order for citizens to get a proposed amendment on the ballot, they have to acquire 8 percent of the number of voters voting in the last presidential election. That means that Amendments 1 and 2 in 2014 required 683,149 each. And to further that, they also have to come from at least 14 of the 27 congressional districts. All that the state legislature has to do is just put it on the ballot.
The state legislature has often made efforts to inhibit citizen initiatives. In little over a decade, the legislature approved bills that banned the collection of signatures at polling places, and enforced a 10-cent-per-signature “verification fee” on submitted petitions. And after the passage of an amendment for a high speed rail in 2000, and the guarantee of a minimum living space for pregnant pigs in 2002, Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed funding for the high speed rail project in 2003 and in 2004 led a successful campaign to repeal the high-speed amendment. Then in 2006, the state legislature placed an amendment on the ballot requiring a 60 percent vote to approve constitutional amendments. It passed and now we are one of only two states in the nation that requires this.
Some of the criticism has been that we are trivializing our state constitution. But if you understand the history of each citizen-initiated amendment, you will find that it is usually inspired by the failure of the state legislature to do their job. Medical Marijuana is an example of exactly that. For three years in a row, bills were introduced that never made it to the floor which would have satisfied the public’s desire to legalize medical marijuana in this state. And only after the introduction of Amendment 2 this year did the state legislature even consider one of the two bills that were introduced. They passed the weakest of two, and you cannot convince me that it was not an effort to undermine the momentum of the amendment.
Our representatives have asked us to let them do their job. I ask them to please put back into consideration legislation for medical marijuana that 3,357,510 voters asked for. And this time, make it legislation that will help the estimated 400,000 people that have been turned into criminals for seeking the medical help that they need in order to survive.