Florida: So when is HJR 7111 appearing on the ballot? And why does it matter?

I noted several weeks ago the potential machinations behind the voting on the heavily amended Florida HJR 7111. A recap: the bill originally was going to split the Florida Supreme Court in two, put the Democratically-appointed justices in the new criminal division, and allow GOP-appointed justices control over the civil division.

What is making it onto the ballot instead are bits and pieces of HJR 7111: Senate confirmation of Supreme Court justices (after merit selection by governor), restrictions on Supreme Court’s rule making authority, etc. (details here).

At the time I projected a possible appearance on the January 2012 Republican presidential primary ballot and that such a move was successfully achieved in the recent past. While a bill for a January 2012 vote was not formally introduced in the regular 2011 session before it adjourned, a Democratic amendment to HJR 7111 to explicitly require the bill appear on the November 2012 ballot was rejected on a party line vote.

Making things even more “curiouser and curiouser” now is a bill (HB 1355), signed into law last month. Because Florida is under the Voting Rights Act, the law was submitted to the Justice Department for “preclearance” earlier this month. Instead of keeping the current primary date of the last Tuesday in January and rejecting several proposals to change it to some other date specific, HB 1355 (details)

  • sets up an earliest (first Tuesday in January) and latest (first Tuesday in March) date and
  • creates a “Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee” to set the date on or before October 1, 2011

Under Article XI, Section 5 of the state’s constitution, constitutional amendments are to go on the ballot “at the next general election held more than ninety days after the joint resolution…is filed with the custodian of state records.” However, the same provision allows for a quicker election for a single constitutional amendment via a special election if agreed to by three-fourths of each house (the 90 day rule still applies, however).

The legislature comes into regular session January 10, 2012. Even if they somehow adopted and got the governor to sign a special-election-for-HJR 7111 bill, it would still be beyond the last possible Presidential Primary Date (January 10, 2012 + 90 days = April 9, 2012).

Thus, to get HJR 7111 onto the GOP primary ballot would probably mean a special session of the legislature adopting a special-election-for-HJR 7111 bill sometime between October 5 and December 7, 2011. Those dates are not unheard of: the Florida legislature called itself into special session December 3-8 of 2009, was called into session by the Governor  July 20, 2010, and called itself back in just after its normal organizational session for a special session November 16, 2010.