House Moves Closer To Abolishing Constitution Panel

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Tallahassee, FL - An effort to jettison the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which drew controversy last year as it successfully proposed a series of ballot measures, continued to move forward Monday in the state House.

Members of the House State Affairs Committee unanimously backed a pair of proposals (HJR 301 and HB 303) that would put before voters in 2020 a proposal to abolish the commission, which drew across-the-aisle scorn for the manner in which it put seven amendments on the November 2018 ballot.

“What I think a lot of us observed and would agree is that, this last time when the Constitution Revision Commission met, that it was more of an activist committee,” said House bill sponsor Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna. “A lot of the action that was taken was done by proxy, by those who sent them.”

The 37-member commission meets every 20 years and has unique power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. While voters approved all seven of the proposals last year, the commission faced criticism for issues such as tying together unrelated issues in single ballot measures.

The commission was primarily appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders, but GOP lawmakers have proposed abolishing it --- and have drawn support from groups such as one of the state’s biggest labor unions.

“It has no guardrails,” Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, who said the commission failed to follow its own rules.

He added that more issues could arise if lawmakers would pursue rule changes for the commission. Such rule changes would require voter approval because the commission is in the Florida Constitution.

“You could come up with a very lengthy, complicated set of rules and procedures and try to get the voters to vote on that. But is that level of specificity something that you want in the Constitution?” Templin asked.

The Constitution Revision Commission was set up by voters as part of the 1968 Florida Constitution.

Drake said questions arose last year about the commission seeking to make policy changes through “bundling” issues in single amendments, rather than addressing issues already in the Constitution such as a 2002 voter-approved amendment regarding the treatment of pregnant pigs. In one high-profile example, the commission last year proposed an amendment that banned offshore oil drilling and vaping in workplaces.

“It’s not acting in the fashion of which it was designed to do,” Drake said.

Drake’s proposal to eliminate the commission is filed for consideration during the 2020 legislative session, which starts Jan. 14. He backed a similar effort during the 2019 session, but it did not pass the House.

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

Drake’s proposals must get through the House Judiciary Committee before having a chance to go before the full House. The Senate version (SJR 142) must still be approved by the Rules Committee before going to the full Senate.

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