Miami-Dade County

If you want to change Florida’s Constitution, go to public hearing at FIU

Members of the Constitution Revision Commission pose for a photo during their inaugural session in the Florida Senate chamber on March 20, 2017
Members of the Constitution Revision Commission pose for a photo during their inaugural session in the Florida Senate chamber on March 20, 2017 Courtesy of the Constitution Revision Commission

The powerful panel that has the ability to update Florida’s foundational legal document will be in Miami on Thursday and wants to hear from you.

The Constitution Revision Committee, a 37-member board that will put constitutional amendments directly on the 2018 ballot, will conduct a public hearing at Florida International University at 5 p.m. Thursday as part of a series of stops across the state. A second hearing is scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

The commission is required to convene every 20 years to review and revise the Florida Constitution. Unlike any other proposed constitutional amendments presented to voters, those suggested by the CRC do not have to receive legislative or court approval. There is no filter, and the group writes its own rules.

The first public hearing conducted March 29 in Orlando drew more than 400 people, nearly 100 of whom spoke, and lasted nearly four hours.

“The purpose of the hearings is to listen and hear from Floridians in local communities,” said Meredith Beatrice, spokesperson for the commission. The panel “encourages all interested Floridians to come and share an idea.”

The commission is comprised of 15 members appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, including Chairman Carlos Beruff, nine members appointed by Senate President Joe Negron, nine appointed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and three appointed by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga. Attorney General Pam Bondi also sits on the panel.

Beruff has already drawn some criticism for proposing draft rules at the inaugural meeting of the group in Tallahassee on March 20, and then postponing a vote on the rules because members were unhappy with them. Beruff proposed that he be given sole discretion over what expenses will be reimbursed, and that he be allowed to use his committee referrals to kill proposals that have been amended by members.

Beruff also proposed that the commission be divided into committees, which would have the power to adopt and amend proposals. As chairman, he would also have the power to name the committees and hire the staff of the committees.

Beruff was also criticized by Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, for scheduling public hearings on days the Legislature is in session. Corcoran named four sitting members of the Legislature to the commission. He responded by asking each of the appointing officers to name two people to an unofficial working group to develop draft rules that will be approved by the full commission on a later date.

Beatrice said Beruff “was working with commissioners to balance the CRC’s commitment to accomplishing as much as we can, in the short time we have, while maximizing commissioner participation and public input.”

Meanwhile, several voter advocacy groups have also raised questions about the CRC process and its ability to act independently from the appointing officers, based on comments Corcoran and Negron have made outlining their priorities for the commission.

“Common Cause’s primary concern is the apparent leverage and influence over the commission members,” said Peter Butzin, state chair of Common Cause of Florida at a press conference last week.

He said the paramount purpose of the CRC is independence but doubted that could happen if Corcoran and Negron expect the group to “legalize school vouchers, eliminate Fair Districts, allow state money to go to religious institutions, put term limits on judges and otherwise interfere with the operations of the courts as an independent branch of government.”

Pamela Goodman, president of the Florida League of Women Voters raised concerns about a proposal in the draft that allows electronic attendances at meetings. “Amending the constitution is serious. It’s an important matter and has to be done with the greatest care and attention,” she said. “We all know that phoning in is no substitute for being in person in attendance.”

Constitution Revision Commission Public Hearings

At FIU, 5 p.m. Thursday, April 6

Student Academic Success Center, Room 160, 11200 SW Eighth St., Miami

Doors open at 4 p.m., hearing begins at 5.

Free parking.

At FAU, 9 a.m. Friday, April 7

FAU Stadium, Acura Club (third floor), 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton

Doors open at 8 a.m., hearing begins at 9.

Free parking.