Constitution panel in legislative crosshairs


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Voters are closer to being asked to place a new restriction on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission -- or possibly even to abolish the powerful panel that meets every 20 years.

Proposals moved forward Thursday in the House and Senate, as lawmakers continue to vent frustration with the commission that last year put seven constitutional amendments before voters. All of the amendments passed, but lawmakers are unhappy that five of the measures combined, or “bundled,” multiple policy issues into single amendments.

In perhaps the highest-profile example, the commission proposed a constitutional amendment that combined a ban on workplace vaping and a ban on offshore oil drilling.

Lawmakers are considering proposals that would restrict the commission to only placing single subjects in proposed constitutional amendments. Also, they are considering proposals to abolish the commission. If the proposals are approved during this year’s legislative session, they would have to go before voters in 2020 because making changes to the commission would require a constitutional amendment.

The full Senate on Thursday took up a measure (SJR 74) that would place a single-subject requirement on the commission. Senators could vote on the measure next week.

A short time earlier Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee backed a proposal (HJR 249 and HB 251) to dismantle the commission, whose members last year were largely appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders.

Rep. Brad Drake, a Eucheeanna Republican sponsoring the proposal to eliminate the 37-member commission, said voters should be given the option to vote on both approaches to dealing with the panel.

“I’m not a constitutional attorney. I would think that one would take precedent over the other,” Drake said after the meeting. “But it should be up to the people to choose.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican backing the single-subject restriction, said there is still a role for the commission.

“I see value in the CRC,” Bradley said Thursday after the Senate met. “I think it’s a good thing to have in the Constitution every 20 years. It needs to be reformed. And I think the biggest reform is the bundling issue.”

Bradley acknowledged his view has evolved since January when he expressed interest in eliminating the commission, which has unique powers to put proposals on the ballot.

Drake said he’s willing to alter his proposal to redefine actions the commission can take, but he hasn’t seen a proposal he’s comfortable with.

Drake maintains the “crony commission” has become “too political, too dangerous.” He said he is concerned the commission engaged in policy issues rather than offering technical changes to the Constitution, as he said was intended when the commission was created by voters in 1968.

“It was demonstrated in the last election cycle that what became a revisionary committee morphed into a political committee,” Drake said.

Besides the vaping and drilling bans, the commission’s proposals in November included ending greyhound racing, strengthening lobbying restrictions and creating a governance system for the 28 state and community colleges.

Drake maintains those issues should be handled by lawmakers, not through constitutional amendments.

Drake and Bradley said they don’t have a coordinated effort on the measures, which leaders are allowing to advance on their own.

“We’ll cross that bridge if we were to come to it,” Bradley said when asked if both measures could receive full legislative support.