Thursday May 24, 2007

Miami Beach mayor sues Dade over petitions

claim (pdf) “It shall be unlawful for any person, entity, or elector intentionally to make or cause to be made any false statement concerning the contents or effect of any petition for initiative, referendum, or recall submitted pursuant to Article 7 of the Miami-Dade County Home Rule Charter to any person who is requested to sign any such petition or who makes an inquiry with reference to any such petition and who relies on such statement.”

So reads a law passed November 28, 2006, by the Miami-Dade County Commission. Pretty straightforward: the law makes it illegal to lie to someone to get them to sign a petition. Who could have a problem with that? Well, your suspicions might be raised when you hear that the law was passed by an embattled commission facing the strong mayor proposal, opposed by Katy Sorenson (widely held as the sole voice of reason on the commission), vetoed by Mayor Carlos Alvarez (veto overridden), and that Miami Beach mayor David Dermer is now suing the county over the law (here’s a (.pdf) copy of the claim, which includes the oridnance).

Here’s the counter-argument: let’s say you’re getting signatures to help the manatees by restricting boating speeds in canals. I’m a boater and I hate the idea. I call the cops and tell them you’re “making a false statement” about manatee populations. Next thing you know you’re in the back of a squad car, hauled off to MDPD headquarters. Even if my claim turns out to be bogus, you’ve had one unpleasant afternoon, and are going to be pretty discouraged from going back out on that corner. (And forget a countersuit — you’d have to show malicious intent.) So basically, the argument goes, this is just another attempt by the commission to consolidate their power by making it more difficult for citizens to get referendums passed, this time at the expense of first amendment rights.

Keep in mind that the referendum process is governed by the county charter (check it out, it’s a real page-turner), which by definition the commission cannot overrule. Keep in mind also that actually lying to someone in the process of collecting petition signatures is fraud, which is of course already illegal — the difference is that I can’t call the cops down to slap handcuffs on you then and there.

And keep in mind that getting a referendum on the ballot requires getting something like 100,000 signatures, which is hard enough without these bullshit obstacles. I hope the commission’s power-grab gets slapped down by the courts. But more importantly, I hope you people vote some of these turkeys out of office soon.

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