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Senators back abolishing Constitution panel

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An effort to abolish the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which successfully put seven constitutional amendments before voters in 2018, continued to move forward Monday in the Senate.

The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee unanimously backed a proposal (SJR 142) that would ask voters in 2020 to do away with the commission, which meets every 20 years to consider changes to the Florida Constitution.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who is sponsoring the proposal, said the commission in 2018 went beyond what voters wanted when the panel was created in the 1960s.

He also pointed to concerns that the commission could be used a partisan instrument.

"I think there is a bipartisan consensus that this tool could be used for ill, much more likely for ill than for gain," Brandes said.

Last year's commission members were mostly appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott, then-Senate President Joe Negron and then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran. But the commission drew widespread criticism for "bundling" multiple topics into single ballot measures, such as a proposal that banned offshore oil drilling and banned vaping in workplaces.

Brandes' measure is filed for the 2020 legislative session, which starts Jan. 14.

It comes after the Senate approved a similar abolishment measure during the 2019 session. That measure did not pass the House.

Mary Adkins, a master legal skills professor at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law who has researched the history of the 1968 Florida Constitution, argued against Brandes' proposal during Monday's committee meeting.

Adkins said the commission was created as a separate way to provide a "generational" review of the state's top legal document.

Adkins suggested a steering committee be set up to provide the commission with guidance.

The Senate during the 2019 session also approved a measure that would have prevented the commission from bundling multiple topics in ballot proposals. The House also did not pass that proposal.