State lawmakers moving to kill off the venerable Florida Constitution Revision Commission

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

Saying it isn’t representing Florida citizens the way it should, a committee in the Republican-controlled state House voted unanimously on Thursday to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), the state panel that’s supposed to review and propose changes to the Florida Constitution every twenty years.

Last year’s CRC placed eight proposed constitutional amendments on the state’s general election ballot for voter consideration (one was removed by the Florida Supreme Court). Voters were frustrated that the committee “bundled” five of the amendments together, confusing voters by combining two and sometimes three different issues onto a single measure.

“I think that it’s a political committee. I don’t think that it’s a committee that is representative of the citizens of the state with collective ideas to make considerations and revisions of the existing Constitution,” said state Rep. Brad Drake, a Republican from the Panhandle area who is sponsoring the measure in the House.

The 2017-2018 CRC lineup was hardly representative of the citizenry of Florida, with Republicans controlling 34 of its 37 seats. The majority were chosen by three of the most powerful GOP government officials in 2017: Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Drake called it  a “cronyism committee.”

The disdain was bipartisan.

“I, too, share in the pain of the voters and the people who had to go through this last election cycle with these amendments,” echoed state Rep. Wengay Newton, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, who complained about the CRC’s “bundled” amendments.

“It was multiple things happening in one amendment, so it wasn’t one amendment, it was four amendments in an amendment. Which was a crazy process,” Newton said.

Among the most ridiculed bundled amendments combined a ban on oil and gas exploration in state waters with banning vaping in indoor workspace areas. Another combined the victim’s rights measure known as “Marsy’s Law’ with another item that raised the mandatory retirement age for Florida judges.

State Rep. Margaret Good, a Democrat from Sarasota, suggested that instead of outright eliminating the commission, it might make more sense to confine  the CRC to reviewing and revising the state constitution, instead of proposing ideas that actually make it larger. She ultimately voted to support abolishing the CRC.

St. Petersburg Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate.

A less draconian measure is working its way through the Legislature which would keep the CRC alive, but ban it from bundling constitutional amendments in the future.

Judging by the sentiments from lawmakers in the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday, however, that proposal might not be strong enough.

“I just think that it’s outdated. I think it’s unnecessary, and more importantly, I think it has become too dangerous,” said Drake.

The CRC met in 1978 and 1998 to make changes to the state Constitution, but none were as controversial as the spate of confusing amendments the panel put on the ballot in 2018.

The bill will now go to another committee before going to the full House for a vote. If it passes through both chambers of the Legislature, it would then go before the voters as a constitutional amendment in November of 2020.

 

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