Members of a subcommittee in the Florida House believe it’s time to do away with the Constitutional Revision Committee — a group that meets once every 20 years to recommend amendments to the state constitution.
Their main gripe about the 37-member committee, whose members are appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, was born out of frustration by the Legislature and voters after a dismal performance relating to the 2018 ballot.
Prior to the 2018 ballot, members of the committee approved several amendments “bundling” provisions that had no relationship. Critics loudly protested what was seen as an attempt to get an unpopular amendment passed on the coattails of a provision that might be more widely embraced.
There were more than a couple of examples of so-called “bundling.”
For example, Amendment 11 was a blatant bundling attempt. It would have done three things:
• Repeal a provision that allows the Legislature to restrict property rights of non-citizens — something that likely could not have been enforced.
• Would have deleted a section of the Constitution that dealt with high-speed rail — a provision that was repealed by voters but never deleted.
• Allow the Legislature to apply reduced sentencing requirements to prisoners who had committed crimes before new laws were passed. This is still a hot topic today.
Another attempt to combine unrelated changes through a single amendment included banning oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida while also forbidding indoor vaping in public buildings.
Still another would require employers to provide death benefits to spouses of first responders and active military personnel killed while on duty. That is a reasonable law but one that need not be in the state’s constitution.
All the controversy stirred up by the poor performance of the last committee — heavily influenced by Gov. Rick Scott appointees — has spurred the Legislature to consider banning the committee. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee has approved a pair of proposals (HJR 301 and HB 303) that would ask voters in 2020 to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission.
There are some differences of opinion if that is a good idea.
In a News Service of Florida story, House sponsor Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, said he believes the commission has become dangerous.
Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, was not in favor of either bill.
“I’m not comfortable with the idea of just abolishing the commission,” Diamond told NSF. “I think the commission should serve a purpose in addressing long-term issues with our state Constitution that need to be addressed.”
We lean toward Diamond’s assessment.
The only real issue here is how the commission flexed its muscle and expanded its original purpose by playing politics and favorites. Perhaps lobbyists got to members of the commission or maybe strong leadership from one or two commission members pulled in the wrong direction.
Nevertheless, the commission does have a valid reason to exist and that is to address long-term needs that the Legislature, for one reason or another, will not.
The smart thing to do is pass a bill eliminating the “bundling” of topics/laws in proposed amendments to the Constitution. Then voters will have a clear idea if they want to show their support at the ballot box.
An editorial from the Charlotte Sun.