Northwest Florida Daily News Editorial
May 30, 2017
Every 20 years, Florida takes a chisel to the bedrock of its own government, studying the state constitution for ways to update, refine and improve the document that sets out the structure of governance in the state and guarantees Floridians basic rights.
It’s an unusual process — no other state has anything quite like it. And it’s an important one. The Constitution Revision Commission’s proposals go directly to the ballot, and its recommendations typically carry great weight. In 1998, voters approved eight of the nine amendments proposed by the commission.
For those who are passionate about good government, it’s heady stuff, though most Floridians will barely notice that the next cycle of constitution revision is underway. But the 37-member panel was appointed earlier this year and has been meeting since March — and already, there are troublesome clouds over what should be a thoughtful and open process.
For starters, the new commission can’t even agree on the rules that will govern its own deliberations. That’s because — as initially drafted — the commission’s proposed rules would invite the sorts of power plays and secrecy that the Florida Constitution itself has declared to be anathema in the Sunshine State.
One of the most alarming provisions would allow two members of the commission to confer privately about their work. That would make it far too easy for influence peddlers to divide and undermine the commission’s collegiality, building a daisy chain of support for special-interest provisions away from the public eye. Good ideas don’t need that kind of backroom underhandedness, and bad ideas shouldn’t have the darkness they need to flourish.
The rules would also retreat from the gold standard of accountability when it comes to its official records, requiring that documents be “accessible to the public unless otherwise exempted by law” — a phrase with little definition — rather than simply “open.”
In another puzzling development, the draft rules devote a considerable amount of discussion to means by which the public can be shut down from contributing input, and shut out of the process altogether. For example, the rules would grant Commission Chairman Carlos Beruff the ability to block residents who want to distribute literature outside the meeting room, and give the chairs of various committees the ability to shut down public comment.
Along with the flow of information. The commission’s web site (flcrc.gov) is finally up and running — but still falls far short of an engaging, info-packed site hosted by The Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution at the LeRoy Collins Institute.
Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, the former Florida State University president who literally wrote the book on Florida constitutional law, had this to say in a commentary published in March: “Open government is the Florida way and it is important for the Commission to signal from the very beginning that it respects this most important feature of Florida government.”
So far, the message that’s getting out about the commission’s historic efforts falls far short of that standard. Floridians deserve better. [READ MORE]