Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission comes to Tampa Bay today to hear from the public before it starts voting this spring to place amendments on the November ballot. The list of three dozen remaining possibilities contains several poorly conceived proposals and some dangerous ones. The commission will hold a public hearing from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. today at USF St. Petersburg. Here are five areas where voters should make clear to the commission that they expect better:
• Proposal 11: Primary elections
In Florida, only voters registered with a political party can vote in that party’s primary. Voters of no party affiliation are excluded. There’s an exception when all candidates are from the same party. In that case, everyone can vote. But if a write-in candidate joins the race, that closes the primary. Write-in candidates’ names don’t appear on the ballot, and no write-in candidate has ever won an election. This amendment would close that loophole, opening primaries when all candidates are from the same party or the only other opposition is a write-in candidate. That’s a positive change that would end a campaign tactic that disenfranchises thousands of voters. Better still would be for Florida, where no-party registrations are increasing, to open its primaries to all voters.
• Proposals 4 and 45: Separation of church and state; public education
Proposal 4 repeals a prohibition on steering public money to churches and religious institutions. Proposal 45 clears the way for the state to provide "other educational services" separate from public schools. Put them together and it’s easy to see the intent: creating a system of religious and private schools that receive tax dollars. Voters should make clear that this undermining of public education has no place in the Florida Constitution.
• Proposal 54: Hospital deregulation
The state limits where new hospitals can be built based on the need for services in an area. The process ensures that the market isn’t oversaturated with new facilities that focus on profitable types of care, which would weaken existing hospitals’ ability to serve the poor and provide more expensive operations. This proposed amendment would repeal the "certificate of need" process and prohibit the state from limiting the number of hospitals in particular areas. That free market approach doesn’t work in the highly regulated health care industry and would likely drive up costs and drive down quality. It also doesn’t belong in the Constitution.
• Proposal 97: Constitutional amendments
It takes 60 percent voter approval for to amend the state Constitution. That’s not an easy bar to clear. This proposal would raise it even higher, requiring approval by 60 percent of all voters voting in the election, not just on a particular measure. That would have the effect of counting every non-vote as a no, which is not an accepted standard in U.S. elections. It’s a nearly impossible threshold that would kill future efforts to amend the state Constitution, an increasingly popular avenue for driving change on issues that lawmakers ignore.
• Proposal 22: Information privacy
This failed to pass two CRC committees and is not on the list of finalists still under consideration. But the commission is operating under opaque rules, so voters should be on alert for a last-minute effort to revive it. This proposal is a deceptive, dishonest effort to weaken the robust privacy protections in Florida’s Constitution with the ultimate goal of infringing upon abortion rights. The state Constitution establishes the right of every person "to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life." This amendment would add the phrase "with respect to privacy of information and the disclosure thereof," severely restricting how privacy rights apply in some areas and threatening the state’s commitment to public records in others.