Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission should erase all hints of trying to deceive voters

Miami Herald Editorial Board

All 37 members of the CRC are appointed by the governor, the Florida Senate president and the House Speaker.
All 37 members of the CRC are appointed by the governor, the Florida Senate president and the House Speaker. Florida Constitution Revision Commission

What does expanding civics education in public schools have to do with letting the state authorize charter schools in your local community, currently the purview of local school boards? Truth is, one has nothing to do with the other, unless the Constitution Revision Commission says so.

That’s the problem, and on Monday, the 37 members of the CRC should fix it.

This year, the CRC, which meets every 20 years to recommend modifications and additions to Florida’s Constitution, has introduced a particularly insidious brand of mischief to the process. Politics always intrude, no matter who is in the Governor’s Mansion. The governor gets to appoint 15 members of the 37-member CRC.

But this time around, the proposals that could make it to the ballot in November seem particularly focused on creating both an explosion of charter schools across the state and an unnecessary layer of state bureaucracy; running roughshod over Miami-Dade’s home-rule charter and, basically, snagging Gov. Rick Scott a seat in the Senate by appealing to his base and getting them out to the polls.

Worse, the CRC is poised to deny voters the ability to choose or reject each proposal on its own merit. That’s because the commission has “bundled” barely related — or wholly unrelated — proposals. If voters like one item in a group of three that have been bundled together, then they have to accept the others, even if they find those proposals unpalatable.

For instance, why in the world should voters in Volusia County decide whether Miami-Dade County has to have an elected sheriff? How is it their business? It’s not, and it shouldn’t even make it onto the ballot. But this item, Proposal 13, is grouped with three others, including Proposal 26, which would create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It’s a proposal with some merit, and it’s also apple pie — irresistible, right?

One of the worst proposals actually stands on its own, unbundled: Proposal 29 would effectively turn Florida businesses into immigration police. The Editorial Board has long opposed the E-Verify program. It is unreliable and has wrongly tagged legal immigrants as undocumented and therefore ineligible to work; it has driven migrants further underground, leaving both small farmers and larger agricultural companies to find costlier alternatives or leave produce rotting in the field. It duplicates federal law. It would drive business costs up, undermine service and ag industries and cripple the economy.

The country’s immigration system, indeed, is broken. E-Verify offers no solution whatsoever.

At the CRC, nothing is written in stone — yet. And at its meeting on Monday, members should agree to a motion that member Roberto Martinez plans to make: Unbundle the proposals so that commissioners can consider taking re-votes on the individual merits of each once again and ensure voters aren’t misled.

“Separating each question will make it possible for the voters to clearly understand what it is they are voting for, allowing them to make an informed decision,” writes Martinez, a former U.S. Attorney for Miami-Dade County, to the CRC. His concern is on target.

Bundling isn’t unheard of. In the history of the CRC, proposals, have indeed been grouped together.

However, in the past, members have been able to take final votes on each item, seperately. Sometimes, members change their minds, especially if horsetrading came into play during the initial votes. Often, members realize the gravity of what a particular proposal would mean and rethink the true purpose of the state’s Constitution.

Ellen Freidin, a member of the 1998 CRC, lamented to the Editorial Board that, “What’s different now is that by doing the voting the way they are doing it, they are shoving down the throats of commissioners a requirement to vote for items they don’t like to get something they do like on the ballot, by grouping them before the final vote is taken.”

Martinez’s motion, which would require a simply majority — and which should pass — would help remedy what currently smells like political deviousness.