Miami-Dade County

Abortion rules, felon voting, and an FCAT ban. Time to rewrite Florida’s Constitution.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was among members of the Constitutional Revision Commission who listened to residents during a town hall meeting at Florida International University’s main campus in Miami on Thursday April 06, 2017.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was among members of the Constitutional Revision Commission who listened to residents during a town hall meeting at Florida International University’s main campus in Miami on Thursday April 06, 2017. pportal@miamiherald.com

Abortion foes urged a rewrite of the privacy clause. Civil-liberty advocates argued for deleting the restriction on felons voting after they’ve served their sentences. And a retired teacher from Fort Pierce gave a stirring pep talk on changing Florida’s Constitution to bar students from taking the FCAT.

“We won World War II without standardized testing,” George MacArthur told members of the Constitution Revision Commission during its meeting at Florida International University’s western campus Thursday night. “We’re the greatest country in the history of the world. We do not need standardized testing.”

The wish-list of constitutional amendments at the hearing before the 37-member state panel ran from hot-button issues to more niche causes: opening primaries to all voters, blocking term-limits for judges, fighting climate change, preserving local governments’ independence, restricting fracking, allowing electronic voting, ending greyhound racing, protecting public-school funding, banning plastic bags.

“We are here to listen to you,” Carlos Beruff, the Miami-born developer appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, to serve as commission chairman. “We have an email address and all of those things. But it’s much nicer to hear it in your own words.”

We won World War II without standardized testing. We’re the greatest country in the history of the world. We do not need standardized testing.

George MacArthur, former teacher from Fort Pierce

The commission meets once every 20 years, and can submit proposed amendments directly to voters next year. And while the panel won approval of almost all of its proposals when it last convened, in 1998, this time it faces a steeper political climb. In 2006, Florida voters agreed to restrict their ability to revise the constitution by requiring a 60 percent vote for amendments, dropping the old 50 percent threshold.

Applause lines suggested a left-leaning crowd, trying to persuade a right-leaning panel. Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney general and a rising star in the national Republican Party, sat next to Beruff as the lone member of the commission guaranteed a seat by her office. Scott and the Republican leaders of the House and Senate appointed every other member, beside the three tapped by Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.

With Florida Speaker Richard Corcoran urging the commission to adopt term limits for judges, several speakers at FIU’s Mitch Maidique campus warned temporary tenures would discourage lawyers from joining the bench. “Close up your practice and go serve as a judge, temporarily, for 12 years, and then go back and start fresh again?” former appeals judge Gerald Cope told the panel. “It will absolutely limit the ability to recruit talented people.”

A string of speakers from the crowd of about 200 urged rewriting the constitution’s privacy clause, which courts have cited in tossing attempts to restrict some abortion rights. “Restore Florida’s privacy amendment to its original purpose,” said Karen Gushta, a Margate resident whose Twitter biography identifies her as a right-to-life activist. She blamed Florida’s Supreme Court for “interpreting this article to create a fundamental right for a minor to kill her baby.”

Multiple speakers also endorsed rewriting the constitution to make it easier for Florida felons to vote again. “I’m here to ask you to right a 150-year-old wrong,” Bonnie Daniels, who lives in the Falls, said of the 1868 amendment. “This provision is unjust and immoral. It violates the nearly universal belief that everybody deserves a second chance.”

Next Constitution Revision Commission public hearing

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.

  Comments