These 24 ideas could be on Florida’s ballot in November

The most powerful committee of the Constitution Revision Commission is meeting this week to decide how to present the 24 ideas that have emerged as their top priorities to voters in November.
Florida Constitution Revision Commissioner Brecht Heuchan. Listening are commissioners Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, left, and Dr. Pepe Armas. [Joe Burbank | Orlando Sentinel]
Florida Constitution Revision Commissioner Brecht Heuchan. Listening are commissioners Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, left, and Dr. Pepe Armas. [Joe Burbank | Orlando Sentinel]
Published April 4, 2018|Updated April 4, 2018

Florida voters would see 24 proposals rolled into 12 amendments on the November ballot under a preliminary proposal unanimously adopted by the Style and Drafting Committee of the powerful Constitution Revision Commission on Wednesday.

The proposal was prepared by Commissioner Brecht Heuchan, chair of the committee, which has the power to decide which amendments get rewritten, which get merged with others, and which get weakened.

The CRC has the unique authority to put amendments directly on the ballot if 22 members of the 37-member commission approve. Under the proposal tentatively agreed to on Wednesday, here's what voters would see:

▪ Six proposals would stand on their own and not be merged with others: Proposal 39, which expands the ban on lobbying by former public offices, restricts current public officers from lobbying and prohibits the use of public office for public benefit; Proposal 93, which allows innovative and high-performing school districts to have the same flexibility as charter schools; Proposal 11, which closes the write-in loophole for elections; Proposal 29, which requires employers to verify the immigration status of their employees; and Proposal 67, which bans greyhound racing in Florida.

▪ Proposal 10, which calls for expanding civics education in public schools, would be tethered to Proposal 71 to allow the state — in addition to school boards — to authorize charter schools and to Proposal 43, to limit the terms of school board members.

▪ Proposal 91, which bans oil and gas drilling in state-owned waters, would be merged with Proposal 65, which adds vaping to the indoor smoking ban.

▪ Proposal 44, which requires a super-majority vote by university trustees to raise fees, would be tied to two other ideas: Proposal 49, which provides college tuition for survivors of first responders and military who die in the line of duty; and Proposal 83, which establishes the state college system in the Constitution.

Proposal 13, which would require Miami-Dade County to elect its sheriff, will be rolled together with three other initiatives: Proposal 26, which creates an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Proposal 9, which makes the Department of Veteran's Affairs a constitutionally required office; and Proposal 103, which changes the start date of the legislative session in even-numbered years from March to January.

▪ Three proposals to eliminate obsolete laws would be grouped together: Proposal 3, relating to the Alien Land Law; Proposal 12, authorizing high speed rail in Florida; and Proposal 20, which cleans up criminal statutes.

▪ Three proposals relating to the court system would be merged: Proposal 96, which imposes new victims' rights in court proceedings; Proposal 6, which gives judges independent authority to interpret statutes rather than deferring to an agency; and Proposal 41, which extends the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.

Each of the 24 ideas had been given preliminary approval by the full commission but the grouping now needs 22 votes to make it to the November ballot.

Four of the proposals — the employment verification plan, prohibiting state buildings from being named after current elected officials, elimination of the write-in loophole in elections, and the greyhound ban — fell short of the 22 votes in the first round. Several members expressed concern that tying them together would be seen as an attempt to prop up less popular measures with more popular ones.

"We owe the citizens of this state the opportunity to decide on each individual proposal as to whether that proposal should become part of our Constitution," wrote Henry Coxe, a Jacksonville lawyer, in a letter to Heuchan on Monday.

"An effort to group one proposal with another could easily be perceived as a political decision to protect one from being hurt by another, or to bootstrap one with a popular proposal," said Coxe, who was appointed to the commission by former chief justice of the Supreme Court Jorge Labarga.

Heuchan, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, and CRC staff, agreed it could be perceived that way. "But you also have to acknowledge at least in some of those cases the reasons they fell below 22 is there were several people who weren't there to vote," he said Wednesday.

While some CRC members wanted all the proposals to stand on their own to avoid voter confusion, others argued they wanted them grouped to save voters' time.

Bob Martinez, a Miami lawyer also appointed by Labarga, urged the Style and Drafting Committee to focus on making the 15-word amendment titles and the 75-word summaries "clear and succinct."

He said he met with officials at the Miami-Dade elections office, whose lengthy ballot during early voting in 2012 led to unprecedented long lines and forced the state to extend voting hours.

"They told me it really wasn't the length of the ballot, it was the clarity," Martinez said. "It was the time the voter spent trying to figure out the question. If the question is not clear, and the summaries are not correlated, then the voter will try to take more time to understand."

But Carolyn Timmann, the Martin County clerk of court, disagreed.
"What I heard is the length of the ballot does matter," she said. "I agree in an ideal world everybody would have as much time as possible.''

She said groupings have to make sense but the more they group the proposals, the better.

Heuchan said he proposed his own set of groupings, after meeting with the three constitutional experts hired by the CRC to advise them: Barry Richard and Jason Gonzalez, both of Tallahassee, and Chris Altenbernd, a Tampa lawyer and a former state appellate judge.

"The notion of letting everything stand alone — that's an extreme idea that jumps every bit of precedent that we have," Heuchan told the Times/Herald on Wednesday. "The essence of their letters and their cautions, I have taken to heart."

He said that he started the process thinking "everything should be grouped somehow" but has now concluded "that some things should stand on their own."

The committee spent two hours Tuesday discussing possible grouping options. It returned Wednesday, met for 90 minutes and tentatively approved the groupings. The committee will meet Thursday and decide what order to place them on the ballot.

The full commission will vote on the proposals as presented by the committee but it can amend any of them with 22 votes, Heuchan said.

The CRC meets every 20 years and has the unique power to place constitutional amendments directly on the November ballot. It has a May 10 deadline to complete its work. Ballot proposals will need support of 60 percent of the voters to become law.