The Constitution Revision Commission is a big deal and voters should pay attention. This group of unelected appointees will have the power to put constitutional changes directly on the ballot.
The CRC is required to meet every 20 years to review and recommend changes to Florida’s Constitution. That’s pretty heady stuff. The politically well-connected will be jockeying for seats on this influential and prestigious panel.
The CRC can put forward amendments to clean up outdated or conflicting provisions or to remove language that is no longer binding. It can also introduce new issues, amend existing constitutional language or undo what citizens accomplished through the initiative process.
It’s one of five ways to amend Florida’s Constitution.
One method — by citizens’ initiative — is a 10-step process — just to get on the ballot. It is difficult, costly and time-consuming. But it’s a tool that’s being relied on more frequently out of voter frustration. Voters angry with their representatives for ignoring their pleas — for medical marijuana, solar energy and land conservation — started jumping through the hoops.
Florida’s Constitution is the basic governing document of our state. It is supposed to outline our guiding principles and government structure while the Legislature is to set specific policy and programs through statute — laws. The U.S. Constitution, by contrast, is a much leaner document — only 8,700 words — compared to Florida’s with many times that — over 87 pages and growing.
Florida’s Constitution has been amended many times and is voluminous beyond its intended purpose.
Some argue — rightfully so — that we should be selective about what goes into our Constitution. While others believe it’s the people’s document — which it is — and if the Legislature ignores the people, they have the right to act.
Elected officials blame citizens’ initiatives for the burgeoning Constitution. But who’s really cluttering up the Constitution?
Here’s the scorecard:
▪ There were 136 proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot from 1978 through 2014 — 101 passed.
▪ The Legislature put 78 on the ballot — 61 passed.
▪ Citizens had 34 ballot initiatives — 27 passed.
▪ The Taxation and Budget Commission had seven ballot measures — five passed.
▪ The CRC met twice — in 1978 and 1998. It proposed 17 and eight passed.
The Legislature was responsible for 60 percent of the changes to the Florida Constitution during the past 38 years. Citizens’ initiatives account for 27 percent.
Do we really need a CRC or is it overkill? The members haven’t been appointed yet but will be prior to the 2017 legislative session. The 37-member commission will be made up primarily of governor and legislative appointees. The chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court appoints three and the attorney general serves as a member. It’s safe to assume it will be a very conservative group.
The CRC has very few limitations. Nearly everything is fair game.
The Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution was formed to help Floridians understand the process. Its public awareness campaign includes a citizens’ guide, a website and social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook.
Citizens need to get engaged and participate. They could influence who is appointed or suggest what topics the CRC should discuss.
Here’s an idea: Form an independent redistricting commission to take over the responsibility of redrawing congressional and legislative districts every 10 years.
Here’s another: Pass real ethics reforms that include being forced out of office as a legislator’s penalty for violations. Or how about penalties for violating government in the sunshine?
If a proposal makes it to the ballot, it’s important to be informed on what it really does. They can be confusing, sometimes by design.
Fortunately, voters have the final say.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.