Panel approves revamping right to privacy

By Lloyd Dunkelberger, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A proposal that would narrow the right to privacy in the state Constitution was approved Thursday by a panel of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

In a 4-3 vote, the commission’s Declaration of Rights Committee agreed to a proposal that would say people have a right to be free from governmental intrusion “with respect to privacy of information and the disclosure thereof.”

Commission member John Stemberger, who is sponsoring the measure (Proposal 22), said the 10-word addition to the privacy clause is aimed at restoring the right to its original intent and to act as a correction to court decisions that have extended the clause to abortion cases.

“It’s about restraining the Florida Supreme Court’s gross overreach by ignoring the original intent of the amendment and in doing so producing bad public policy,” said Stemberger, who is from Orlando.

Stemberger said if voters approve the amendment it would not eliminate the right to an abortion, which is protected under federal court rulings, but it would allow Florida to impose “reasonable regulations” on abortion procedures.

He said the amendment could lead to laws requiring parental consent before minors can have abortions and requiring 24-hour waiting periods before abortions, two measures that have been struck down by Florida courts based on the privacy clause.

Kimberly Scott, representing the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, asked the committee to reject the measure, saying it could have “dangerous implications for women’s health,” including imposing the 24-hour waiting period.

“This specific clause has protected women from onerous and medically unnecessary restrictions intended to limit access to abortion services,” Scott said.

Ingrid Delgado of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the committee to support the measure, saying it would clarify the original intent of the privacy clause.

“It’s lamentable that this clause historically intended to protect privacy of information, and not intended to address abortion, has established in our state a broader right to abortion than the federal Constitution,” Delgado said.

Commission member Arthenia Joyner, a former state senator from Tampa, voted against the proposal, saying Florida should protect the right to privacy.

“Do I want to give government broader powers to snoop into my personal business?” Joyner said. “Because make no mistake, that’s exactly what this amendment would do.”

Stemberger disputed arguments that courts should have the ability to expand their constitutional interpretations based on changes in society. He said those expansions should be limited to amendments put on the ballot and approved by voters.

“That’s the way the Constitution lives and breathes, not through the court making law on its own whim,” Stemberger said.

The proposal next heads to the commission’s Judicial Committee. If eventually approved by 22 members of the 37-member Constitution Revision Commission, the measure would be placed on the 2018 general election ballot. It would have to be approved by at least 60 percent of voters to be enacted.

News Service of Florida