TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday voted to advance four public proposals, including a measure dealing with homestead exemptions and another potentially impacting abortion rights.
The commission, which meets every 20 years and has the power to place constitutional amendments directly on the 2018 ballot, has voted to formally consider a total of six measures proposed by the public, out of more than 2,000 proposals submitted after a series of public hearings earlier this year.
CRC Chairman Carlos Beruff defended the process, saying the advancement of the six proposals is “merely one of several ways the public's voice is heard during this process.”
He noted CRC members have until Oct. 31 to submit their own proposals and many of those measures may be “inspired by similar themes in the public proposals” or may be the result of testimony heard by the commission.
Through Tuesday, commission members have submitted 15 proposals.
CRC members have also said there is a great deal of duplication or similarity among the 2,000 public submissions.
For instance, CRC member Sherry Plymale earlier this month advanced a measure (700396) that seeks to open party primaries to more voters when the only opposition is a general election write-in candidate. The item is similar to approximately 20 public proposals submitted to the commission.
Nonetheless, the paucity of public proposals formally advanced by the commission, which is dominated by Republican appointees, drew criticism from a coalition of Democratic-leaning groups, including the Florida Education Association, League of Women Voters Florida and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
The coalition called the final vote on the public proposals “a stunning rejection” of the measures advanced by the public. In contrast, the group noted the 1997-98 CRC received 696 public proposals and advanced 128 for further consideration.
“The citizens of Florida were told their voices would be heard and would shape this process,” the group said in a statement. “Actions speak louder than words, and this commission's actions are brazenly dismissive of the concerns and suggestions of Floridians.”
Among the four public measures advanced Tuesday, CRC member John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer and longtime anti-abortion activist, won approval for a proposal (700698) filed by former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell that would narrow the right to privacy in the state constitution.
It would restrict governmental intrusion into the privacy of Floridians to “privacy of information and the disclosure thereof.”
The restriction could limit the use of the right in abortion cases. For example, the Florida Supreme Court earlier this year cited the state's constitutional right to privacy as the basis for nullifying a 24-hour waiting period law for women seeking abortions.
Another public proposal, sponsored by CRC member Don Gaetz, would prevent felons from using a constitutional provision to protect their homesteads from court action or other claims.
The exemption could not be used if the homestead was obtained with “proceeds from a fraudulent or dishonest act,” the measure (700598) says.
“It is possible, through an unintended perversion of the homestead exemption, for felons to bring ill-gotten gains to Florida, to pack those ill-gotten gains into a homestead…and then hide those assets from the courts and the claimants,” Gaetz, a former Senate president, said.
Two other public measures were advanced for further consideration on Tuesday, including a proposal (700540) to establish the right to a “clean and healthful environment,” sponsored by CRC member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a former mayor of Sewall Point.
CRC member Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member, won the commission's backing to advance a measure (700540) that would establish a right “to earn an honest living.”
The six public proposals advanced by the CRC this month will now head to commission committees for further consideration, and will be joined by proposals filed by CRC members.
Tim Cerio, chairman of the CRC's Rules and Administration Committee, said the commission has set aside three weeks of committee meetings through December to consider the filed proposals. He said the committee meetings may be extended into next year if more time is needed.
Any amendments that win approval in the committees will return to the full commission, where they will need 22 votes from the 37-member panel before they can be placed on the ballot. The commission has a May 10 deadline for its final report.
Like other constitutional amendments, CRC-backed proposals on the ballot will need support from at least 60 percent of voters to take effect.