TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Two former state senators, the president of The Florida Bar and a defender of former Gov. Jeb Bush's education legacy were among those named to the Constitution Revision Commission by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, on Wednesday.
In an interview with The News Service of Florida, Negron said that he hoped the commission, charged with coming up with proposed amendments to the constitution for voters to consider, will focus on a handful of issues ranging from education to redistricting.
Negron, who appoints nine members of the commission, outlined four specific areas for the CRC to focus on: overhauling the redistricting process, doing away with restrictions on state funding for religious organizations, adding a member to the Florida Cabinet and strengthening private property rights and due process.
On redistricting, Negron and other lawmakers have complained it is almost impossible for the Legislature to comply with all of the standards in an amendment, approved by voters in 2010, aimed at cracking down on gerrymandering.
Following their approval in 2012, redistricting plans for the Senate and the state's congressional delegation were tangled in litigation for years, and eventually struck down, although the House map was not challenged.
“In the Soviet Union, they used to have laws that, no matter what course of conduct you engaged in, you were breaking a law,” Negron said. “And that's how I feel with redistricting. ... The law, in my opinion, was intentionally designed so that no matter what a legislator does, he or she will be breaking that law.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, has also said the commission should look at changing the state's redistricting process, perhaps even by creating an independent panel to draw the lines.
Negron also said he wants the commission to repeal the so-called “Blaine amendment,” which restricts state funding for religious organizations. Opponents say the language was originally rooted in anti-Catholic bias, but it has more recently been used to bar public school vouchers that funnel money directly to religious schools.
“I don't want to see things in the constitution used to stop parental choice in education,” Negron said.
And Negron said he hopes the commission adds another member to the Florida Cabinet. Currently, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet --- comprised of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam --- make up a four-member panel when they meet to consider state business.
Negron didn't say what position should join the panel, though he mentioned proposals to add an elected commissioner of education, secretary of state or insurance commissioner.
Those charged with representing Negron on the CRC include former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville; former Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale; Bill Schifino, president of The Florida Bar; and Patricia Levesque, an executive with a pair of foundations aimed at safeguarding Bush's education reforms in Florida and encouraging their adoption elsewhere.
Bush pushed through a voucher program that was struck down as unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court because of the Blaine amendment.
Negron also named to the panel Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, past president of the Cuban American Bar Association; Sherry Plymale, who has held a variety of education posts; Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari; former Sewall's Point Mayor Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch; and Carolyn Timmann, the clerk of circuit court and comptroller of Martin County.
In all, the CRC will have 37 members. Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga named his three appointees last week. Corcoran will also name nine members, Scott will select 15 and Bondi will serve on the panel automatically.
All the members of the commission are supposed to be appointed before the legislative session begins March 7.
Any amendments approved by the commission would have to be approved by 60 percent of the voters during the 2018 elections.