The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida gave its weekly “Defender of Freedom” honor to state Reps. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, for opposing changes to Florida election laws.

Clemens was singled out for comments lamenting that massive strike-everything amendments have twice been added to House Bill 1355 the night before a committee has voted on it (the same applied this week in the Senate), making it almost impossible for lawmakers, much less the public, to understand the changes before they have been approved the following morning.

Williams said the bill would make it “tougher, not easier” to vote, and also worried that provisions restricting campaigning near polling places would infringe on freedom of speech.

Here’s the full announcement:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLUFL) today announced that Representatives Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) and Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) received the organization’s most recent “Defender of Freedom” award for the week which ended today, April 15, 2011.

Williams and Clemens earned the award for their comments and votes against House Bill 1355 in the House Committee on State Affairs on Thursday, April 14, 2011. The bill would was completely rewritten with a 150-plus page “strike all” amendment which was filed the night before the bill was debated and passed by the Committee.

As amended, the bill changes several voting and elections procedures, restricts free speech, impedes access to the ballot by registered voters and limits the rights of Floridians to access their government through ballot initiative and voting. Perhaps most damaging, it pushes Floridians – especially college students, minorities and military personnel – to use “provisional ballots” which are far more likely to be discarded and not counted.

“Even if you can put aside the process which essentially jammed through a massive bill without a meaningful chance for public comment or review, it’s a bad bill and moves democracy backwards,” said Danielle Prendergast, ACLUFL Director of Public Policy. “”Any system that denies people the right to fill out a normal ballot is a recipe for disenfranchisement,” said the ACLU’s Danielle Prendergast.

In opposing the process by which the bill was completely amended, Clemons said, “We continually get these strike-all amendments that contain 155 pages of language the afternoon before we’re supposed to hear a bill the next morning. We can stay up all night reading this bill but we can’t certainly expect members of the public and Florida residents to be able to set aside their families and their time to be able to absorb all this information in one evening then find a way to get to Tallahassee the next day to be able to address their elected officials…it leads to bad government and bad legislation.”

On the impact of the bill, Williams said, “I cannot vote for (the bill) today because we’re going to infringe on freedom of speech issues and it will make voting here in Florida tougher, not easier.”

The newly rewritten House Bill 1355 passed the Committee on a party-line 12-6 vote with Democratic Reps Garcia, Bembry, Taylor and Kriseman joining Williams and Clemens.

The Defender of Freedom award is be presented weekly during the Florida Legislative Session to the lawmaker or other leader who displays public courage and defends constitutional freedoms in public policy. Previous winners were Sen. Jack Latvala (R-St. Petersburg), Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R-Miami), Senator Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton), Rep. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and Rep. Scott Randolph (D-Orlando).


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