Panel says no to most of public’s ideas for revising Florida Constitution

Miami Herald files: Constitution Revision Commission met in Miami for a public hearing April 6

Miami Herald by Mary Ellen Klas

October 17, 2017

In a swift, 20-minute meeting, the panel charged with updating the Florida Constitution on Tuesday rejected all but a few of the 2,012 public proposals submitted to the Constitution Revision Commission, advancing only six of them, after months of encouraging the public to submit ideas.

“As we review this public input, it is clear that Floridians share many similar ideas and interests,” said CRC chair Carlos Beruff before the panel vote. “In addition to commissioners who chose to directly sponsor a public proposal, several commissioners have created their own proposals inspired by public input.”

The hundreds of rejected proposals include limiting money in politics and political committees, updating medical references to abortion, establishing religious protections for businesses, creating a state commission on sea level rise, electing the Public Service Commission, legalizing marijuana and dozens of others ideas submitted by concerned citizens, special interest activists, political gadflies and constitutional scholars. For months, the commission conducted hours of public hearings across the state, encouraging people to submit proposals to the CRC website.

After the commission rejected nearly all of them, a coalition of left-leaning groups sent an angry letter to Beruff and commissioners.

“The citizens of Florida were told their voices would be heard and would shape this process,” the groups wrote. “Actions speak louder than words, and this commission’s actions are brazenly dismissive of the concerns and suggestions of Floridians.”

After the meeting, several commissioners vowed to rescue some of the ideas by promising to incorporate them into their proposals. Commissioners have until Oct. 31 to draft their proposals, which will then be viewed and vetted by committees.

The panel meets every 20 years and has the authority to put constitutional amendments directly on the November 2018 ballot. In order for the commission to consider a public proposal, it must be nominated by a commissioner and receive 10 votes from the 37-member commission. Commissioners have already submitted 12 proposals to the commission for review. They must decide by May which proposals to put on the ballot.

The commission is dominated by Republicans and controlled by Gov. Rick Scott. The governor appointed 14 of the members and named Beruff, a Manatee County developer, as its chair. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, both Republicans, each appointed nine members, and Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga appointed three members.

The widespread rejection of the public ideas came as little surprise to commissioners. The CRC’s executive director Jeff Woodburn sent out an email Oct. 13 urging commissioners to avoid submitting public proposals as their own “unless the proposal is exactly what you want.” Instead, he said, commissioners should use the public ideas as a starting point and then draft their own version.

In its letter, the coalition noted that the last time the CRC met, in 1997-98, commissioners read in full and considered 696 publicly filed proposals and 18 achieved the 10 votes needed to move forward for further consideration.

“That was a stark contrast to this commission’s response to the public,” said the coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Common Cause Florida, Florida First Amendment Foundation, the League of Women Voters Florida, and several labor unions.

“The 6 proposals moving forward amount to less than .3 percent of those filed, and no other proposals even received a motion for consideration.”

Beruff announced at the start of the brief meeting that there would be no discussion about the proposals and a “yes” vote was not a vote on the merits of the idea. “Today is about directly sponsoring a public proposal in the exact language it was submitted,” he said. [READ MORE]

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