With the full Senate poised to take up the issue, a plan that would abolish an influential panel that can place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot began moving forward Wednesday in the House. The House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee, in a 12-4 vote, backed a measure (HJR 1179) that would ask voters in 2022 to eliminate the state Constitution Revision Commission.
“There are other ways to amend the Constitution,” bill sponsor Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, said. “This particular method does not yield good results for our constituents.”
Beltran added the commission has inappropriately dealt with issues that should have been left to the Legislature. The 37-member commission, which was set up by voters as part of the 1968 Florida Constitution and meets every 20 years, has been targeted after it put seven amendments on the 2018 ballot that were approved. That included high-profile measures designed to ban offshore oil drilling, prohibit vaping in enclosed indoor workspaces, bar elected officials from lobbying the first six years out of office and outlaw greyhound racing.
The commission, with members appointed by the governor and other state leaders, drew widespread criticism, at least in part because it bundled unrelated issues into single ballot proposals. For example, it tied together the bans on oil drilling and workplace vaping. Critics argued such bunding was unfair to voters, who might support one issue in a ballot proposal and oppose another.
In voting against the proposed abolition of the commission Wednesday, Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, said the focus should be to prohibit future bundling of topics into single ballot issues.
“If they’re going to propose an amendment, it should only address a single subject,” Diamond said. “I have concerns of doing away with the process of meeting once every 20 years to take a hard look at our state Constitution and think about how it can be improved.”
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said the proposal would limit avenues for the public to change the Constitution.
“I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the people of Florida for just the Legislature to have the most power in dictating what gets onto that constitutional ballot process,” Eskamani said, referring to lawmakers’ power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.
The Senate is slated Thursday to take up its proposal (SJR 204) to repeal the commission.
Former Senate President Don Gaetz served on the last Constitution Revision Commission. He was positive about the process that allows the voters to revisit the state’s constitution every 20 years.
He told me, “We have the option of taking a clean sheet of paper out and starting out with ‘We the people.’ Or we can embroider some changes around the edges.”
Gaetz pointed out that Florida is the only state that has a constitutional revision process like this. He said that the commission tries to update the state and look ahead for the next 20 years.
“What is the structure of government? What are the powers or limitations of government that will help our state grow, prosper, and be a good place to live for the next 20 years?” he shared.
I hate to see us lose this unique process.