Tallahassee, FL – Largely appointed by former Governor Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders, a state commission placed seven constitutional amendments on the November ballot that were approved by voters.
But the commission could become a thing of the past after stirring a controversy with many of its proposals.
The House State Affairs Committee on Thursday (March 14th) approved a measure (HJR 249) that would ask voters to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission, which has unique powers to put proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.
The 37-member commission — which meets every 20 years — created controversy because five of the seven constitutional amendments it placed on the ballot included multiple subjects. For example, one proposal included a ban on offshore oil drilling and a ban on vaping in workplaces; another linked death benefits for first responders with the creation of a governance system for the 28 state and community colleges.
Bundling such seemingly unrelated issues in single ballot proposals drew widespread criticism.
â€œThose were not revisions, those were policy changes,â€� said Rep. Brad Drake, a Eucheeanna Republican who is sponsoring the measure aimed at abolishing the commission. â€œI donâ€™t think thatâ€™s the intention of the commission.â€�
Drake added that with almost all members of the commission appointed by the governor, House speaker, Senate president — all Republicans like Drake — and the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, the panel has become too politically â€œcronyâ€� and â€œtoo dangerous.â€� The attorney general also serves on the commission.
Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, agreed the selection process was â€œhighly politicalâ€� while acknowledging â€œthe party in power controls policy.â€�
Separate proposals also are moving through the Legislature that would require the commissionâ€™s proposed constitutional amendments to include only single subjects. The Legislature and citizensâ€™ initiatives are already required to follow such a single-subject rule when putting proposed constitutional amendments before voters.
â€œWhat we challenge the citizens to do, to go out and get the signatures and have a single subject to amend the Constitution is what we should abide by when we do a revision,â€� Newton said.
Drakeâ€™s proposal to abolish the commission, if approved by the Legislature, would have to go before voters in 2020 because it would require a constitutional change.
While the House committee Thursday backed Drakeâ€™s idea, the board of directors at the LeRoy Collins Institute, a nonpartisan think tank located at Florida State University, opposes abolishing the commission.
The institute supports the separate efforts (SJR 74, HJR 53) that would place a single-subject requirement on the commission.
â€œClearly bundling of disparate issues can be a problem with an electorate that is not well informed on issues and with voters who might support one part of the amendment but not another,â€� institute Director Carol Weissert said in a prepared statement. â€œThis, however, does not justify abandoning a fundamentally good idea — the commission itself.â€�
The commission was created in the 1960s as the state modernized its 1885 constitution.
Both proposals in the House — to abolish the commission and to limit amendments to single subjects — must go before the House Judiciary Committee before they could reach the full House.
A Senate proposal to abolish the commission (SJR 362) must appear next before the Senate Rules Committee. The Senate measure seeking to impose a single-subject requirement is ready to go to the Senate floor.
Source:: News Daytona Beach