January 4, 2018
DELIVERED VIA EMAIL [VIEW PDF VERSION]
RE: Information being provided to Commissioners
Dear Chairman Beruff:
We write to express two concerns about the information being provided to committee members and the public prior to CRC committee votes. One relates to timing of delivery of the information and the other relates to the source and substance of the information.
Staff analyses with background information on proposed amendments to our state constitution are being sent too close to meeting times for members to study and digest them prior to voting. Committee members need to be fully informed on the critical issues they are being asked to assess. This requires time in advance of meetings to make careful decisions on whether to support or oppose a proposal and/or to develop amendments that might be necessary to improve the proposals being considered. At a minimum, this lack of timely consideration is having the impact of slowing the process and delaying committee votes on some proposals and leading to uninformed votes on others.
Furthermore, the information being provided to commissioners in their meeting packets is sometimes not published on the CRC website until after meetings. This makes it difficult for the public to know what information and materials members might be relying on and if it is necessary to appear at committee meetings to present supportive or opposing views.
Members should receive all analytical and background information in ample time before meetings to allow them to study, it and the information should be published on the internet at the same time CRC members receive it.
We call on you to alter the current situation by providing the crucial timely support that commissioners need to make informed and rational decisions. You have the authority to hire adequate staff to provide this substantive support. Or you can request assistance from nearby law schools that undoubtedly have faculty and students with the expertise to provide the necessary in depth and neutral analyses.
There is an additional concern relating to who is authoring the “staff analyses” and whether they are presenting all sides of the issues they address. Often the persons drafting the analyses are unknown to committee members, leaving commissioners and the public to wonder if the authors have expertise in the subject matter and are presenting the issue in a nuanced, balanced and thorough way. Members need to have confidence in the information they are receiving in order to fully study, understand, and make thoughtful evaluations of all competing points of view of the issues before they vote. To do this, members need to have thorough, unbiased and complete information on the background, history and potential impact of the proposals they are considering. Florida citizens deserve nothing less.
Regardless of who authors staff analyses, each analysis should identify the name of the author(s) and authors should be available to appear at committee meetings to answer any commissioner questions that might arise. This will go a long way to assuaging the concerns that may now exist.
Commissioner Tom Lee, in a recent interview, articulated this problematic situation and expressed frustration that “staff analyses” are not presenting neutral views of some issues and are not being sent to commissioners prior to the amendment filing deadline, making it virtually impossible to submit proposed amendments. He said, “We have a structural impairment here where we’re not able to have the information in time to make thoughtful decisions about critical amendments that are coming before [the Commission]. We need to fix that.”
Chair Beruff, you can and you must fix these glaring problems.
In the legal arena, what the CRC has been doing would be termed “trial by ambush.” Our Constitution is too important to allow critical decisions to be made by members who do not have full information about the issues they are voting on in time to make good decisions.
Please inform us as to how you plan to change this.
Howard Simon, Executive Director
Kirk Bailey, Political Director
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida
Liza McClenaghan, State Chair
Common Cause Florida
Barbara A. Petersen, President
Florida First Amendment Foundation
Rich Templin, Ph.D., Legislative & Political Director
Laura Goodhue, Executive Director
Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates
Joanne McCall, President
Florida Education Association
Terry Sanders, President
Joseph Pennisi, Executive Director
Florida Policy Institute
Brad Ashwell, Legislative Director
Florida Alliance for Consumer Protection
Michelle Kanter Cohen, Counsel
Fair Elections Legal Network
Ashley Walker, Director
For Our Future
Pamela Goodman, President
League of Women Voters Florida
Linda Geller-Schwartz, Florida State Policy Advocacy Chair
National Council of Jewish Women
Mark Ferrulo, Executive Director
CC: All CRC Commission Members
Contact: Lisa Hall, firstname.lastname@example.org 850-508-7782