A committee of the powerful Constitution Revision Commission advanced several constitutional amendments that may appear on voters’ ballots in November, including a proposal that would make Miami-Dade’s sheriff an elected position and an ethics measure that would bar former officials from lobbying for six years.
In a three-hour meeting, the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee approved its plan to group 24 constitutional proposals into a dozen amendments and send them to the full 37-member commission, which has the power to put measures directly before voters once every 20 years.
Among the groupings: Proposal 10, which would expand civics education in public schools, would be tied with Proposal 71, allowing the state — in addition to school boards — to authorize charter schools, and Proposal 43, limiting terms on school boards.
The groupings would also include one linking Proposal 13, which would require Miami-Dade County to elect its sheriff, with three other government-related measures: Proposal 26, creating an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the state’s law enforcement agency; Proposal 9, making the Department of Veteran’s Affairs constitutionally required; and Proposal 103, which would automatically move the start of legislative sessions in even-numbered years to January.
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The groupings had drawn debate during the week, with some commissioners arguing for measures to stand on their own should they be approved for inclusion on the ballot. But other commissioners, including committee chairman Brecht Heuchan, argued that bundling some proposals would be more digestible for voters and save them time in the voting booth.
The grouping including Proposal 13, which would change how Miami-Dade’s top cop official is selected, drew particular debate. To reject that proposal, “you would have to vote against counterterrorism and against veterans,” said Jess McCarty, a lobbyist for Miami-Dade County.
Though each of the 24 proposals cleared an initial vote by the full commission, the groupings need to pass the full body again with 22 votes by a May 10 deadline for inclusion on the November ballot. If the measures are approved, they would join five proposed constitutional amendments already on the 2018 ballot. To pass, 60 percent of the voters would have to support them to become law.
Among the most debated of the proposals was stand-alone Proposal 39, a ban on lobbying by former public officials that would also restrict current public officers from lobbying and would prohibit them from using their office for personal gain.
Commissioners debated and adopted an amendment that would bar former officials from lobbying their governmental agencies for six years after leaving office. But a modification brought by Commissioner John Stargel, which would have allowed attorneys to continue to represent clients in cases where government agencies are making “fact-based determinations,” was tabled.
Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, a member of the committee, argued for the change, saying the current language of the ban could be interpreted to bar some former legislators from working with governmental entities entirely, even if they weren’t working in a lobbying capacity.
The overall amendment, he said, was intended to stop former officials from “using their influence they obtained while they were legislators to then enter into a revolving process. … It wasn’t the intention of the proposal to prevent certain professionals from engaging in fact-specific issues.”
“What we’re trying to avoid is people who come into the Legislature as CPAs or land-use lawyers from being unable to practice” after their terms have ended, he said.
But Sprowls said the measure will certainly be tweaked when it returns to the full commission in a week and a half, and that he was working with the proposal’s sponsor, Commissioner Don Gaetz, to more narrowly tailor its content.
“We haven’t agreed yet on the remedy,” he said. “We’ve agreed on the problems.”
Proposal 39, which mirrored ethics legislation brought forth in the Legislature by state House Speaker Richard Corcoran, had already been amended earlier in the week, when the committee agreed with little discussion and a voice vote to remove one of its provisions banning local governments from hiring outside lobbyists to secure state budget appropriations. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, had pushed the measure during the full commission meeting to neutralize what he called an arms race for lobbyists, paid for by municipalities with local taxpayer dollars, to secure more money for local projects.
This story has been updated to correct the details of the Proposal 39 amendment that passed Thursday.