Op-Ed

Appoint forward-looking Floridians to Constitution panel

Jorge Labarga, chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, announces Monday his appointments of Roberto Martinez, Arthenia Joyner and Hank Coxe to the Constitution Revision Commission. All appointments will be made by March 6.
Jorge Labarga, chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, announces Monday his appointments of Roberto Martinez, Arthenia Joyner and Hank Coxe to the Constitution Revision Commission. All appointments will be made by March 6. Florida Supreme Court

Buried beneath all the chatter in the lead-up to the next session of the Florida Legislature is talk about amendments to our state Constitution.

What are they talking about? Why should you care?

We all know that the U.S. Constitution gives force to Americans’ most fundamental principles; it is our nation’s supreme law.

But there is also, among others, the Constitution of the state of Florida. We don’t hear about it as much, but its provisions affect all of us as Floridians. While it includes some of the same rights as the U.S. Constitution, it incorporates a number of other issues.

For instance, it spells out the powers of state and local governments; it sets out the requirements for how the state can tax us; it establishes eligibility for voting and basic requirements for our elections; it requires the state to provide for high quality education in schools that are safe, efficient and uniform throughout the state. It also establishes guidelines for many other matters, including eminent domain, lotteries, gambling, Everglades funding and the state minimum wage.

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the people who wrote the Florida Constitution made it easier to change. One way is through a group called the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Every 20 years, this Commission is formed. There are 37 members, appointed by the governor, House speaker, Senate president and chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Florida’s attorney general is also a member.

The next Commission will be appointed early this year and meet in the summer of 2017. Commission members hold public hearings and discuss and propose changes to the state Constitution.

Proposals approved by the full Commission are then placed on the ballot. Florida’s voters then decide whether they should become part of the Constitution. Sixty percent must agree to any change.

Changing a constitution is a big deal. Revisions could affect our rights as citizens, the way our government operates, school funding for pre-K through 12th grade, as well as our state university system, how we are taxed and so much more. There are no specific limitations on the issues that the Commission may consider.

Clearly, the Constitution Revision Commission is important to the future of Florida and its residents. That is why it is vital that well-informed, conscientious people be appointed, people who will represent all of us.

These appointees must be willing to propose changes to the Constitution that are designed to help improve people’s quality of life.

They must also try to convince others with differing points of view and political party affiliations of the importance of agreeing to place these matters on the ballot.

They must be as assertive and persuasive as possible in their efforts to sway others of different backgrounds that particular types of proposals would not be in the best interests of all Floridians.

I implore Floridians to not be complacent and wait until proposals are voted into the Constitution to complain. The time to be involved is now.

We must convince the governor, House speaker, Senate president and chief justice to appoint a fully representative Commission.

The time for making such recommendations is extremely short. Appointments will be made no later than March 6. Go to http://revisefl.com/ for more information.

Once the Commission is selected, we must then provide input to its members so our voices will be heard and any changes to the Constitution will reflect real progress rather than unwise and unfortunate modifications that will negatively affect our state’s future.

Marlon A. Hill is an attorney with the Miami law firm of Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel, LLP and a past president of the Caribbean Bar Association.

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