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Clean water and reproductive rights petition drives are lagging

Written by on Sunday, October 1, 2023

Organizers blame hesitance of allies, hot summer weather.

By Sarah Malickson

Original Air Date: Sept. 29, 2023

Host: Two petitions to amend the Florida constitution have been circulating statewide since early this year, mobilizing thousands of people. The organizers – all of them based in Southwest Florida – have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures. But all that may not be enough, as WSLR News’ Sarah Malickson reports.

Sarah Malickson: The Clean Water and Reproductive Freedom initiatives are two state-wide initiatives that might not be able to make it on the ballot. Both are struggling to meet the minimum of about 900,000 signatures. 

The Clean Water initiative is a true grassroots campaign. It supports an amendment to the Florida constitution that would allow residents to fix a systemic flaw within the state’s legal framework, according to the organizers. The presumption has been that public officials base their decisions on science.  But years of degrading water systems in Florida show that this presumption is false, says Melissa Martin, head of the initiative. 

She explained to me that Florida residents are not hesitant to sign, but are only just becoming aware of the importance of a right to clean water. Another roadblock was that a few environmental organizations were hesitant to join the initiative.

Melissa Martin: Ironically, what we had expected and didn’t really see in the follow-through, was a few environmental organizations that we thought would receive the ball and run with it, because this goes directly to their mission statements. I guess that was probably our biggest room where we wasted a lot of time waiting for folks. But at the same time, I understand if people have spent decades of their lives or their careers working within a certain box of regulations, processes, and expectations. It would be very uncomfortable for them to step outside that box.

S.M.: As of mid-September the organizers have gathered 85,000 petition signatures for Florida’s Clean Water initiative. Martin explained they are using multiple avenues for collecting signatures, by petitioning on-site, through a direct mailing list, and with linked organizations.   

A similar – but slightly better – situation is playing out with the Reproductive Freedom initiative. That initiative wants to amend the state constitution to guarantee access to abortion. It is driven by the Sarasota League of Women’s Voters, Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida, and Planned Parenthood Sarasota. It has raised enough funds to pay canvassers. Shawn Bartelt of the Sarasota League of Women Voters explained to me that many of the obstacles they have faced with this petition have been due to a summer slowdown. Most of their petitioning is done on-site, so Bartelt explained that the summer heat had a significant impact.  

 Shawn Bartelt: We’re now trying to find people who will sign a petition, because it was so hot or having our volunteer petitioners go out and petition when it was so hot. And then, during the summer everybody’s on vacation. A lot of people are out of town. So we definitely saw a slowdown. We have a lot of voter registration and petitioning events coming up on our calendar, and we’re very hopeful that now that things have started to cool off a little bit and people are coming back into town. We’ll be able to get things very much back on track.

S.M.: The state organizers have collected about 300,000 signatures for the initiative. Despite this, Bartelt says she is hopeful. Floridians who encounter petitioners are very willing to sign for the petition.  

S.B.: The vast majority of people we encounter want to sign the petition. Certainly we always run into some individuals who aren’t comfortable with that and don’t favor that position. But in pretty much every location that we’re at, we’ve found people to be very responsive and want to sign the petition statewide. All of the polling that’s been done pretty much indicates that around 67% of Floridians favor reproductive freedom.

S.M.: Both Bartelt and Martin expressed that petitioners are volunteers. As Martin explained, the Clean Water initiative is a grassroots campaign, and all petitioners involved in these initiatives are unpaid volunteers. have acted willfully and have not been compensated. 

Bartelt also stressed the importance of this petition as the Supreme Court approaches their decision on the six week abortion ban. 

S.B.: I think voters in Florida really need to reject this government interference in their lives, by putting the abortion rights on the ballot in 2024. Decisions so personal should not involve politicians and must be put back into Floridians’ hands.

This has been Sarah Malickson with WSLR News. 


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