After months of traveling the state, listening to the public and discussing a variety of proposed changes to the state constitution, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission entered its final phase Monday morning–deciding which proposals to put on the November ballot for voters to consider. It’s a process that could run into early May
The commission has narrowed its original list of more than 100 proposed amendments to 37, which it will spend the next week debating and voting on.
The first amendment to be considered Monday was Proposal 49.
“I really do mean it when I say that this is our first big test,” said Commissioner Jose Felix Diaz, a former state.
Proposal 49 would guarantee death benefits for the families of first responders and certain military personnel. It immediately sparked a discussion that was inevitable: what’s the threshold for amending the Florida Constitution?
Diaz says it is a noble idea, but one that shouldn’t be written into the state’s constitution.
“There’s going to be a lot of issues that are going to come before us that are going to require us to vote, not based on what’s altruistic and noble, but based on what should be in the Constitution,” said Diaz. “That’s the threshold question for me.”
Some of those issues before the CRC involve imposing gun control measures, expanding rights of crime victims, banning greyhound racing and offshore oil drilling, placing term limits on school board members, and requiring school superintendents to be appointed and not elected.
“It’s our duty to make sure proposals do not get in front of the voters that are things that should not be in the Constitution,” said Commissioner Patricia Levesque. “Things that can be amply handled in statute.”
But, Commissioner Tom Lee, who is also a current member of the Senate and is a former Senate president, says Floridians can’t always rely the Legislature to follow the will of voters.
“The Legislature is compromised in ways this commission isn’t. I’ve seen a lot in my time in the Legislature and there are reasons things will never get out of the Florida Legislature. It’s much easier to kill something than it is to pass it,” said Lee. “Some days I feel like a first responder seeing the sausage made and it leaves a scar on you.”
In an op-ed article sent to the media this week, former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Major Harding urged the commission “to exercise restraint and reject proposals that detract from the Florida Constitution’s purpose.”
“A constitution is like the foundation of a house, and statutes are like the exterior and finishes built upon that foundation,” added Harding, represents a group called Keep Our Constitution Clean, a group of concerned businesses and Floridians that urges the commission to reject proposals that detract from the Florida Constitution’s purpose.
One commissioner argues the state’s constitution is unique–a document that its authors intended to be revised. Commissioner Rich Newsome says that’s why they created the CRC process.
“Unlike the federal constitution, Florida’s Constitution is different. It is a living document,” said Newsome. “This is unique and I would suggest that this document is not so rigid that it prevents good public policy if the people want it and if there’s consensus, which is why we held hearings.”
The proposed amendments approvedl by the CRC this week will be sent to the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, which will have the task of refining the wording of the proposals approved by the CRC over the next week-and-a-half. The committee will also write ballot titles for each amendment and decide whether amendments should be consolidated.
The full commission will then return to Tallahassee on April 16 to make its final decision on the proposals. Members will have until May 4 to finish their work.
In order for a proposed amendment to earn a spot on the November ballot, it must receive 22 votes from the commission’s 37 members. To win passage in November, a proposal would need 60 percent support from voters.