“Bundled” constitutional amendments, which led in November to voters casting ballots on proposals that combined seemingly unrelated issues such as vaping and offshore oil drilling, would be a thing of the past under a measure that started moving Tuesday in the Senate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a proposal (SJR 74) that targets the type of bundled ballot proposals that came out of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission last year.
Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who is sponsoring the proposed change, called his measure a start. But he’s also interested in a separate measure (SJR 362) by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, that would eliminate the commission, which meets every 20 years and has unique powers to put proposals on the ballot.
“I would be interested in abolishing the CRC. I haven’t made a final decision about whether I’m going to support that bill,” Bradley said after the committee meeting. “What I do know is that if we’re going to have a CRC, they need to stop the bundling.”
Last year the 37-member commission met for months before putting seven proposed amendments on the ballot. Five included more than a single subject. All of those proposals were approved by voters.
Amendment 7, for example, dealt with payment of death benefits for first responders killed while performing official duties and the creation of a governance system for the 28 state and community colleges. Amendment 9 prohibits drilling for gas and oil in state coastal waters and bans vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces.
Another measure, Amendment 10, requires all charter-county governments to have elected constitutional officers, including sheriffs. It also set the start of the annual state legislative session in January in even-numbered years, creates the Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and deals with the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
In May, Brecht Heuchan, chairman of the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee which put together the final proposals, defended the use of grouping by noting it was done by constitution revision commissions in 1998 and 1978.
“In fact, it was done more prolifically than we did,” Heuchan said. “We grouped less than either of the two earlier CRCs. In fact, at the bedrock of all of this, the Constitution that we are operating under now, which was ratified in 1968 by the voters … at its point of ratification, the entire Constitution was bundled or grouped, depending on the word you want to choose, into three amendments.”
With all of the commission proposals approved in November, Bradley said Floridians apparently have a natural default to vote yes more than no.
“That is not how this is supposed to work,” Bradley said. “Voters should have clear choices presented to them when they’re engaged in amending our fundamental law.”
His proposal would require that any constitutional revision from the commission “must embrace but one subject.”
The Constitution Revision Commission doesn’t meet again until 2037.
Bradley’s proposal, if approved by the Legislature, would go before voters in 2020. The bill must still go before the Ethics and Elections and the Rules committees to reach the Senate floor.
Showing support for Bradley’s proposal, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, withdrew his own measure (SJR 86), which also targeted bundling. A similar bill (HJR 53) has been filed in the House for consideration during the legislative session that starts March 5.