by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon
March 20, 2017
The panel tasked with authoring changes to Florida’s constitution officially began its work Monday holding a kick off meeting in Tallahassee to outline its goals.
“This commission, make no mistake about it, has awesome power,” said Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.
The Constitution Revision Commission is empaneled every 20 years to consider updates to the state’s constitution. Though the work has just begun, the intrigue swirling around who would serve on the commission and which policy issue it would tackle has been a palpable force on state politics in recent months.
Gov. Rick Scott gets to appoint 15 members, including the chairman, who is Carlos Beruff, a Sarasota developer and longtime Scott friend. He says he will assume the powerful post with no personal agenda.
“I’d rather just go listen,” he said. “I find myself learning a lot by just going and listening.”
The commission is planning a slate of public hearings statewide to get public input, a normal part of the process. In order for any proposal to be put on the ballot by the commission and become law, it must secure 60 percent of the vote.
The committee has not yet passed a slate of rules that will govern how it conducts its business. A draft version of the rules was presented during the opening meeting, which was held in the Senate chambers.
Outside groups have already been critical of the commission’s open records and meeting laws, which Commissioner Tim Cerio, Scott’s former general counsel, defended during the meeting.
The rules mirror those in place for the House and Senate, which make any meeting between more than two members subject to state sunshine laws.
“If three commissioners were to go to dinner, they can’t discuss commission business,” Cerio told the other 36 members of the commission.
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said her organization took issue with the plan. In a letter sent after the draft rules were released, she said that the open meeting rules are less stringent than those governing other “collegial bodies” in Florida, which have a higher standard than the Florida Legislature.
“Given the gravity and importance of the work of the Commission and its impact on citizens across the state, we would expect the CRC to hold itself to the highest standards of transparency,” she wrote to the commission.
Beruff said the rules are not yet finalized and that he is going to consider changes put forward by members ahead of final adoption. The final rules vote will come at a future meeting, which has not yet been called.
Issues ranging from education reform to state voter laws have been discussed as the commission prepared to begin its work, but in the early stages commissioners say they first want to listen.
“Being a business person, a [Florida] native someone who is dealing with a tourism element … I think I’ll weigh in on those areas,” said former state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, whose family owns a restaurant in Panama City Beach.
Commission John Stemberger, who leads the conservative Florida Family Policy Council, says he wants to see which issues gain “momentum.”
“I have some thoughts, but the first thing I want to do is listen,” said Stemberger, who often lobbies the Legislature in favor of socially conservative policy issues. “Obviously, it does not matter what we do if we don’t get a 60 percent consensus.”
The last time the Constitution Revision Commission met, it placed nine measures on the ballot, of which eight passed. Some of them represented sweeping changes of state government, including reducing the state Cabinet from seven to three members. The change gave the governor more power by housing those former Cabinet posts under the executive branch. [READ MORE]