Rarely is it a good idea to get too excited about a bill in the Florida Legislature in advance of each year's session. Only a fraction of them pass, and they go through a lot of changes.
Still, the language of one bill this year - a proposed amendment to our state Constitution - is so dramatic that it deserves early attention.
The bill is PCB 3 in the House Judiciary Committee. You could politely describe it as "radical." Some critics might prefer the word "nutty."
As written, the proposed amendment says four things:
(1) Florida courts cannot limit the power of the Legislature, except where the Constitution specifically says so.
(2) The Constitution cannot be "interpreted" to limit the Legislature's power. The limit has to be "expressly contained" in the Constitution's wording.
(3) When the Constitution tells the Legislature to do something a certain way, it can still do it other ways too.
(4) The amendment is retroactive, reaching back in time.
In short, PCB 3 pretty much says the Legislature can do whatever it wants, unless the Constitution specifically says: "You can't do X, and the courts can stop you."
This amendment was written as a reply to the Florida Supreme Court's recent ruling striking down school vouchers. But it goes much further.
Our Constitution requires the Legislature to do lots of things - provide quality schools, protect the environment, enforce English as our official language and so forth.
But not a single one of those requirements goes on to say, "The courts can make the Legislature do this." And under the first change in PCB 3 as written, the courts could never do that.
The second change would turn matters on their ear. Instead of being a limit on the Legislature's power - spelling out what it is allowed to do - our Constitution would become a license of unlimited legislative power.
The third change is targeted at the voucher ruling. The Constitution requires a system of quality, uniform public schools. The intent is to say the Legislature can use private school vouchers, too.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is Longwood Republican David Simmons, and on Monday he was kind enough to answer my questions by e-mail. He told me the main goal is to remedy the voucher ruling.
"Most likely," he wrote, "several of the sentences of which you speak will simply be deleted."
Still, Simmons had interesting things to say about the power of the Legislature. Whereas I think of the state Constitution as limiting the power of government, he sees the same document as limiting the power of the citizens.
In this view, the citizens ARE the Legislature - they are one and the same. A constitutional limit on the Legislature, therefore, is a limit on the ability of the citizens to self-govern.
When courts overrule the citizen-Legislature without express authority, Simmons wrote, it "flies in the face of accepted theory of state constitutional government."
I respectfully disagree with this analysis, on the grounds that the Legislature is NOT synonymous with "the citizens." It is the government, a ruling force distinct from the people. The Legislature demonstrably acts against both the public will and the public interest.
(I might start to feel differently if the Legislature did not control its own districts, if it had a re-election rate of something less than 100 percent, and if it didn't fight and refuse to obey citizen amendments to our Constitution.)
But maybe that's just me.
A lot of things still have to happen for PCB 3 to become part of our Constitution. The amendment has to pass a bunch of committees, and then the full House and Senate. After that, the voters would have to approve it in a statewide election. As Simmons himself says, it is likely to be scaled back.
Still, PCB 3 as written is a useful and telling indicator of how Florida legislators think. I almost wish they would pass the thing as is. It would make for a heck of a debate.