TALLAHASSEE — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to get a growth management proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The suit by Florida Hometown Democracy Inc. challenged a Feb. 1 deadline for verifying petition signatures. The group’s proposed state constitutional amendment fell about 65,000 signatures short. The amendment would require voter approval for changes in local growth plans.
The Hometown Democracy Amendment is opposed by development and business interests that say it is a threat to growth and the state’s economy.
Proponents say it would give citizens the ability to override local officials, who are influenced by development interests, and check urban sprawl and other growth that threatens Florida's quality of life.
The suit dismissed by U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Mickle on Friday, Aug. 29 blamed missing the deadline on discrepancies and problems by state and local election officials. That allegedly included a failure to verify thousands of valid signatures turned in well before Feb. 1.
The lawsuit was dismissed in part because it was filed only against Secretary of State Kurt Browning, the state’s top election official.
It did not include Florida’s 67 county supervisors of elections who are the ones responsible for verifying the signatures, Mickle wrote.
His ruling would allow Hometown Democracy to file a separate lawsuit including the supervisors, but there's little time for that because the deadline for finalizing the ballot is next Friday.
Hometown Democracy organizers did not immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment Sunday. They previously have said they’ll aim for the 2010 ballot if their efforts this year fail.
“We believe that the current law does not violate any constitutional rights, and that supervisors acted properly in verifying the signatures,” Browning said in a statement.
Mickle also ruled there is no federal constitutional right to place a proposal on the ballot and rejected arguments Hometown Democracy's due process and equal protection rights were violated. He also denied a claim that a law allowing businesses to ban petitioning on their property is unconstitutional.
Opponents have persuaded lawmakers and voters to make it harder to amend the Florida Constitution. That includes the private property petition ban law, the Feb. 1 petition deadline and a requirement for 60 percent approval of amendments at the polls instead of a simple majority.
Another law that allowed petition signers to later revoke their signatures has been struck down by an appellate court but that decision is being appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.