It’s the oldest trick in the political playbook.
If you have to unveil a bad bill, do it at 5 on a Friday afternoon.
For as long as there have been newspapers, politicians have used the end of the media day at the end of a media week to make public those things that they genuinely hope the public won’t notice.
Even with a 24-hour news cycle, this practice persists – like this past Friday, June 7, when the 4:47 p.m. email came from the Governor’s Office, announcing that Ron DeSantis had signed 38 bills. Buried in the middle of the list was HB 5, a draconian measure designed to put an end to the citizen initiative process in Florida.
Twenty-eight times in the last half-century the citizens of Florida had the audacity to make policy without the permission of the governing class.
Over the same period, 80 percent of the proposed constitutional amendments on our ballots were put there by politicians and their appointees, not citizen petition initiatives. And the government has also passed thousands of laws and regulations that affect our daily lives.
It’s no surprise that DeSantis signed HB 5. He signaled that he would, and if you believe press reports, he took the unusual step of resurrecting it on the last day of the Legislative Session.
His stated reason: he’s opposed to policymaking via constitutional amendment.
The Legislature’s stated reason for passing it? To protect our constitution from nefarious out-of-state billionaires and Russian oligarchs (no, I’m not making up the Russian oligarch thing. That’s what the sponsor said while defending the bill in committee).
But another page in the political playbook says that there are two reasons for everything – the stated reason and the real reason.
Pardon my cynicism, but if there is so much concern about policymaking in the constitution, then why did the lawmakers reject legislation that would have reigned-in or eliminated the Constitution Revision Commission? Last year there were 24 proposed amendments on the ballot in the form of 12 ballot questions. Two of them were put there by citizens. Nineteen were glommed together into seven ballot questions through a CRC practice called “bundling” because, unlike amendments proposed by citizens, CRC amendments don’t have to be “single subject.”
I know … it’s shocking that politicians have different rules for themselves.
If Gov. DeSantis and Republican legislators are so concerned about the sanctity of the constitution, then why are they imprisoning the jaywalking citizens while letting the constitutional serial killers run free? And if lawmakers have so much reverence for the Florida Constitution, why do they routinely violate it by ignoring the parts they don’t like?
I will recant all of these words if, during the next Session, lawmakers pass legislation to create a statutory initiative process as many other states have. That way, citizens can amend statutes for policy matters that don’t belong in the constitution.
And when politicians are out of step with the will of the people, citizens can have their say without defiling the sacred constitution.
DeSantis’ 5 p.m. Friday signing of HB 5 may have temporarily kept attention away from controversy associated with his action.
But this law will be fiercely litigated, and all or parts of it will likely be struck down as violating either the Florida Constitution, the U.S. Constitution – or both.
Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of several new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.