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Florida House supports asking voters to repeal state’s Constitution Revision Commission

If the proposal is approved by the Senate, it would appear before voters in November.
The Florida Capitol at the start of the legislative session on Jan. 14, 2020, in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
The Florida Capitol at the start of the legislative session on Jan. 14, 2020, in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) [ STEVE CANNON | AP ]
Published Jan. 23, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — The state House approved a proposal Wednesday that would ask Florida voters in November to eliminate a powerful panel that placed seven constitutional amendments on the 2018 ballot — all of which passed.

The proposal (HJR 301), which seeks an end to the Constitution Revision Commission, still must go before the Senate, which backed eliminating the commission last year.

House sponsor Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, said the commission might have once served a valid purpose, but it had “too much political influence” in its 2018 incarnation.

House members voted 93-25 to support the elimination of the commission and 96-23 for a related bill (HB 303).

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who opposed elimination, said lawmakers should push to reform the commission and eliminate its ability to put multiple-subject amendments before voters. The 2018 commission drew heavy criticism for linking unrelated subjects in constitutional amendments.

“Don’t get rid of the CRC just because they put bad questions on the ballot,” Smith said. “We should be reforming it.”

However, Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, suggested lawmakers take time to create a new commission rather than asking voters to reform the existing body. He said putting “guardrails” in place may be “more trouble than its worth.”

Wednesday’s votes appeared to increase the chances that elimination of the commission will go before voters in November, as the House did not pass a similar measure during the 2019 legislative session.

Set up by voters as part of the 1968 Florida Constitution, the 37-member commission meets every 20 years and has unique power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Most of its members are appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, which in the 2018 cycle meant appointments by former Gov. Rick Scott, former House Speaker Richard Corcoran and former Senate President Joe Negron.

Elimination of the commission would require voter approval because it is part of the Constitution.

While voters in 2018 approved all seven constitutional amendments that the commission proposed, it drew bipartisan criticism. In part, that was because it “bundled” together unrelated issues in single ballot measures, such as linking a ban on offshore oil drilling with a ban on vaping in workplaces.

Also, it drew criticism for wading into policy issues that are usually determined by the Legislature.

Drake said in the 2018 election cycle people from the “super progressives” to “ultra conservatives” were concerned about the amendments and were upset in the way they were presented by the commission.

“The concept of getting rid of this commission was very popular,” Drake said.

After the 2019 session, Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed support for eliminating the commission.

Rep. Dianne Hart, a Tampa Democrat who opposed elimination Wednesday, said it’s important for voters to have more avenues to change the Constitution than through amendments proposed by citizens’ initiatives and legislative measures.

Hart unsuccessfully sought to alter the makeup of the commission in the House committee process.

Hart wanted to prohibit recent legislators from serving on the commission, shift most appointments away from the governor and legislative leaders to the state Supreme Court and limit amendments to single topics.

A Senate version of the elimination proposal (SJR 142) must clear the Rules Committee before it could go to the full Senate.

The bundling issue is also being addressed in separate Senate proposals (SJR 176 and SJR 396) that would limit proposed constitutional amendments to single subjects when put forward by the Constitution Revision Commission and by the 25-member Taxation and Budget Reform Commission.

The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which also meets every 20 years, is next slated for 2027.