Thursday, September 20, 2018
Opinion

D'Alemberte: Preparing for an effective Constitution Revision Commission

The members of the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission are being named this month. The commission's proposals, if any, must be submitted at least 180 days before the 2018 general election.

Florida has more methods for amending its Constitution than any other state. Two of these have been in the Florida Constitution from the beginning (legislative proposal and constitutional convention), and two were added by a revision in 1968 (citizen initiative and the Constitution Revision Commission). A fifth method, the Tax and Budget Reform Commission, was added in 1988.

The revision commission process is unique. No other state has such a body. The commission meets every 20 years. Its members are the attorney general and 36 members appointed by the governor (15), the speaker of the House (9), the president of the Senate (9), and the Florida Supreme Court chief justice (3). The chair of the commission is appointed by the governor.

The commission is authorized to set its own rules, and its proposals go directly to the voters without review by the Legislature or the governor.

I have some thoughts on the revision process for the 2017 Legislature and the people of Florida who will ultimately judge the wisdom of any proposals and, if they approve, adopt through a three-fifths vote.

If the legislative leadership is interested in having a productive commission process, they can do three things:

• Appoint a diverse commission, free from instructions and able to listen to suggestions from the public.

• Provide adequate resources for the commission to operate and communicate.

• Use the Legislature's joint resolution power to clean up useless and outdated language in the Constitution even before the commission makes its proposals.

Of course, the first step is to make appointments of the 36 members who will serve with the attorney general.

The commissioners named by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga set a high standard for competence, integrity and diversity. They include former federal prosecutor Roberto Martinez of Miami, former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, and former Florida Bar president Hank Coxe of Jacksonville.

Last week, Senate President Joe Negron made his nine appointments. Although I do not know all those appointed, the list includes two respected former state senators, Don Gaetz of Niceville and Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, and others with experience in state and local government.

Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran should make similarly capable and diverse appointments and resist the temptation to burden them with partisan instructions.

I have served on two commissions, the 1977-78 Revision Commission by appointment of a Democratic governor, and the 2007-08 Tax and Budget Commission by appointment of a Republican Senate president. On neither occasion was I given any instructions other than to work hard and use good judgment.

There is also the important matter of funding. This legislative session must provide the resources for the commission to hire staff, conduct public hearings (where the most important proposals are likely to originate) and communicate with the public during its proceedings and when its proposals are presented to the voters.

Finally, the Legislature can begin cleaning up the Constitution before the commission meets. Over the years, the document has accumulated numerous outdated sections and much useless language. In three articles, the Constitution allows the two chambers to eliminate useless language by adopting a joint resolution, requiring no action by the governor or the electorate. This can begin with the 2017 legislative session, which opens in March.

An example of a provision the Legislature may safely eliminate is the language of Article XII, Section 4, providing a transition for an office that no longer exists, the elected education commissioner. This office was eliminated in the 1998 Constitution revision. A great deal of language is similarly outdated and can be removed without policy debate. The Legislature can advance the revision process by taking on this unglamorous but important work.

Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte is president emeritus of Florida State University and past president of the American Bar Association. He is a former state legislator and chaired the Constitution Revision Commission in 1977-78.

Comments
Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

The heated debate on immigration could benefit from some more facts, which the U.S. Census has helpfully provided. And the facts show that rather than building walls, the United States would do far better to keep opening doors to legal immigrants. Th...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

The federal Food and Drug Administration is bringing important scrutiny to the increasing use of e-cigarettes, requiring companies that make and sell them to show they are keeping their products away from minors. Vaping is the new front in the nation...
Published: 09/18/18

Tuesday’s letters: Honor Flight restored my faith in America

Dogs are the best | Letter, Sept. 15Honor Flight restored my faith in AmericaJust as I was about to give up on our country due to divisiveness and and the divisions among its people and politicians, my pride was restored. As a member of the recen...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

The Senate and the nation needs to hear more about the sexual assault allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Setting aside Kavanaugh's judicial record, his political past and the hyper-partisan divide over his nomination, a no...
Published: 09/17/18
Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

The Tampa City Council has yet to hear a compelling reason to allow a private social club in a residential neighborhood off Bayshore Boulevard, and a final meeting on the matter scheduled for Thursday offers the council a chance to show the diligence...
Published: 09/14/18
Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Florence began lashing down on the Carolinas Thursday and was expected to make landfall early Friday, washing over dunes, downing trees and power lines and putting some 10 million people in the path of a potentially catastrophic storm. Flor...
Published: 09/13/18
Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Gov. Rick Scott has headed down a dangerous path by announcing he has started the process to fill three upcoming vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court as he heads out the door. But to his credit, the governor indicated his "expectation’’ is that he ...
Published: 09/12/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business

Editorial: Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business

After an encouraging start, the breakdown in America’s reset with Cuba is a loss for both sides and for the state of democracy across the region. Havana and Washington are both to blame, but the Trump administration’s hard line with Cuba is out of sy...
Published: 09/12/18
Lessons from Moonves’ ouster

Lessons from Moonves’ ouster

If the swift departure of CBS Chairman Les Moonves has a bright side, it’s that a major television network took accusations of sexual harassment against its chief executive seriously enough to hold him accountable and obtain his resignation even at t...
Published: 09/11/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Two banks have taken the retaliatory step of closing down the campaign account of a statewide candidate because she received contributions from the medical marijuana industry. Nikki Fried, the Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner, has been...
Published: 09/10/18
Updated: 09/14/18