April 20, 2018 12:00 a.m.
Every twenty years, the State of Florida convenes a Constitutional Revision Commission. This Commission is offers one of five methods by which to amend the State Constitution. The other four procedures are state legislative proposals, citizens’ initiatives, a call for a constitutional convention, and the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, a twenty-five member Commission (appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the President of the Senate).
The Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) has thirty-seven members: the Governor appoints fifteen members; the President of the Senate, nine; the Speaker of the House, nine, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, three. The final member is the Attorney General.
After the CRC is formed, the group (or smaller sub-committees) typically tours the State to put “their ear to the ground” and hear what the people desire from state government. While public proposals are accepted, to be formally considered, a public proposal must be endorsed by a sitting member of the CRC and then secure ten votes from the whole CRC. Commissioners can also offer their own proposals. The deadline to submit a proposal was last October. Public proposals did not fare well (nor do they usually): approximately 2,000 public proposals were submitted; only six were formally considered.
After proposals are accepted, the CRC conducts a series of public hearings to determine what proposals to formally place on the statewide ballot. Once on the ballot, a proposal requires a minimum of sixty percent voter approval in order to be incorporated into the constitution. The CRC recently completed the formal review process: 103 proposals were formally considered, with eight being successfully passed to be included on November’s ballot. Interestingly (and with much consternation) six of the proposals are actually “dual” proposals, linking seemingly unrelated issues into one ballot question.
The six dual proposals include the following (general summaries):
• 6001 (actually a “triple play”)- victims’ rights, judges’ retirement ages, and court rules.
• 6002- public university fees and death benefits for first responders and military members who perish while performing official duties.
• 6003- School board term limits and Legislative authority to certify charter schools.
• 6004- oil drilling ban and indoor vaping ban.
• 6005- state government organization and county constitutional offices.
• 6006- removal of discriminatory Constitutional language and removal of language tied to previously deleted provisions related to high-speed rail.
Then the two more straightforward proposals: 6007 (ethics reforms) and 6012 (greyhound racing ban).
Now, those eight proposals are added to the ballot that will already include a lengthy series of candidates for federal, state, county, and local offices.
The ballot gets even longer: another five Legislative amendments to the Constitution are on the ballot: an increased homestead exemption, making permanent a cap on non-homestead parcel assessments, requiring voter approval for casino gambling, the restoration of voting rights for felons, and a two-thirds requirement for the Legislature to impose or increase taxes or fees.
Voting at the polling place will require early education about the dizzying number of proposed amendments and patience to actually complete your ballot. I recommend that you make use of by-mail voting or early voting. For more information related to those alternatives to Election Day voting, please visit the Nassau County Supervisor of Elections web site at www.votenassau.com.
In my opinion, state constitutions should be treated with more reverence than a government version of the People’s Choice Awards for hot political topics. The ballot process allows state officials to hide behind the cry of “it’s what the people wanted!” instead of putting themselves on the record for an issue. Most of the proposed amendments to the Constitution would be more appropriately handled through the legislative process. And, as a government official myself, it continues to be frustrating when it is, in many cases, governmental actions by governmental officials that continues to erode the level of confidence in government at all levels.
I hope that you take the opportunity to review every proposed amendment so that you are a well-informed voter. And I expect that you’ll need the wisdom of Solomon and patience of Job this November. Thanks, Tallahassee.