Power to the people? Lawmakers want to ditch a state commission that has spurred important changes to Florida’s Constitution

By: - February 6, 2019 8:02 am
Constitution

Excerpt from 1885 Florida Constitution. Photo edited and used with permission. Credit: State Archives of Florida.

From prohibiting offshore oil and gas drilling to phasing out the troubled industry of greyhound racing, Floridians went to the polls last November to make dramatic changes to the state’s Constitution.

The amendments were a big deal – 11 of 12 were approved – and several stemmed from Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, known as the CRC.

Though it might be obscure to everyday Floridians, the CRC has a job. It meets every 20 years to consider revising Florida’s Constitution.

Now, the CRC has left a sour taste with some state senators.

They’ve already approved two resolutions during committee meetings this week, one of which would kill the CRC outright.

Critics say, in part, that the CRC has become an archaic way to make changes when the public and advocacy groups can propose their own amendment campaigns, buttressed by social media. The Legislature can also propose Amendments.

But proponents still want to keep the CRC.

“The people who created the commission two generations ago had in mind a citizen’s panel, free of political pressures, that would be more forward-looking than the Legislature,” the South Florida Sun Sentinel wrote in a recent editorial.

The 37 members who served on the CRC last year were all appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott and by GOP leaders in the state House and Senate. Thirty-four were Republicans, and just three were Democrats.

The second resolution that came up this week would restrict the CRC to only one subject when presenting a Constitutional amendment on the Florida ballot.

Why is this a big deal?

Some voters thought the amendments that contained more than one issue – called “bundling” — got too complicated and forced people to vote on all parts of an amendment even if they approved of only one issue in a measure.

Unlike Florida Constitutional Amendments proposed by the public or the Legislature, the CRC can bundle more than one subject..

In last November’s election, five “bundled” measures went before the public – and all of them passed.

“This must end,” declared Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley, the state senator who is sponsoring the single-subject resolution in the Florida Senate. He added that bundling was a “terrible way to amend” the state Constitution.

Representatives from the League of Women Voters of Florida, the AFL-CIO labor union and the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund support Bradley’s resolution on the bundling issue.

Bradley singled out Amendment 10 on last November’s ballot as being particularly “egregious.”

Titled “State and Local Government Structure and Operation,” the measure banned  counties from abolishing local offices such as clerk of the courts and property appraiser and, instead, required those officials to be elected by voters, not appointed.

It was combined with three other issues that were relatively innocuous: Setting dates of legislative sessions; authorizing the Legislature to provide for a state Department of Veterans’ Affairs and creating a state Office of Domestic Security and Counter-terrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“That was window dressing to hide what resulted in fundamental changes to how our local government was set up,” Bradley complained.

Republican Senator Jeff Brandes, who represents part of Pinellas County, is looking at more than a bundling issue. He wants to outright eliminate the CRC from ever meeting again.

“While some of my colleagues would say, ‘Look, let’s limit it to one issue, I think the issue of the CRC, which is really unique in many cases to Florida, it’s time for us to ask the question to the people of the state of Florida, as to whether we should get rid of the CRC process as a whole, and it’s my intention that we should,” Brandes said in discussing his resolution this week.

“Maybe we need to let it go,” said Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County.

Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, who represents part of Duval County, says she supports the eliminating the CRC.

“Power to the people,” she said.

 

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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