St. Augustine Record Guest Editorial by Ellie Rowe, St. Augustine LWV
April 4, 2017
The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is a body of 37 people appointed to recommend changes to the Florida Constitution on the November 2018 ballot. This is a process unique to Florida that happens once every 20 years.
So far two commissions have done their jobs in 1977 and 1997. The idea is to “clean up” the constitution, removing outdated laws and inserting new ones. Any amendment a CDC proposes goes before voters in the next election.
The current CDC met his week under a cloud of suspicions.
An alliance of groups, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and Florida Conservation Voters have lambasted it for withholding information, poor scheduling and failing to work in the spirit of Sunshine Laws.
We should pay attention.
As the coalition suggests, we must insist it operate in complete transparency and ensure that all proposals for new laws are publicly available.
So far, not so good.
For its first meeting, March 29, the CRC scheduled public hearings at times inconvenient to legislators and gave the public only three days advance notice.
As LWV State President Pam Goodman said. “It looks like they’re trying to discourage full participation.”
At the March Summit of the LWV in Tallahassee, there was much fear that the CRC, might sneak around the backs of citizens and propose only laws that benefit just select, like-minded Floridians.
The majority of commission members has been appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran — all Republicans. This is the first time all CRC appointees were appointed by a single party.
The chairman is Miami developer Carlos Beruff, the Republican who ran against Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 primary.
Corcoran and Negron have announced that they want to terminate the new “Fair Districts” law, which rules out gerrymandering. Also on their agenda are school vouchers that allow state money go to religious institutions: also term limits for judges.
If the commission follows that plan, it would allow little input from members of the public, who have legal rights to introduce their own suggestions for new laws.
It’s not too much to require the CRC announce the topics of issues with ample time before holding public hearings.
We call on them to adopt a rule that no proposal can be adopted without a public comment period of at least seven days.
We also take issue with their self-imposed rule that allows commission members to accept campaign contributions from lobbyists who discuss issues taken up by the CRC. Legislators and other elected officials serving on the CRC might be tempted to vote on issues based on whether their votes will yield campaign contributions. Payola in Florida is already common as fungus.
That the CRC would introduce proposed laws against “Fair Districts” is ironic. The LWV spent six years with court battles to get the Legislature to accept the anti-gerrymandering law after it was approved by Florida voters on the 2010 ballot.
Because of it, 44 new legislators are now serving in the state house and senate.
The Audubon Society, ALCU and Planned Parenthood and other organizations have joined the call for transparency and public cooperation.
As Damien Flier of Progress Florida said, “We need an open and transparent process of revising our state constitution; it’s a big deal. A government of, by and for the people only works when our leaders open the doors to the public.”
The CRC’s spokesperson Christopher S. Emmanuel, said it’s early to call the commission a “failure before the Commission even holds its first substantive meeting.”
Nobody has called it a failure. But the commission should know that we are watching.
The St. Augustine LWV will discuss the CRC at the next meeting Friday, April 7, at the St. Augustine Beach City Hall. It starts at 10 a.m. Anyone who cares about the political health of our state should attend. [READ MORE]