Senate prepped to quash Constitution Revision Commission

113 points

If approved, voters would decide in 2022.

The Senate is set to vote on a proposal asking voters whether to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission.

Senators gave their initial approval ahead of a full vote expected on the measure (SJR 204), by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, to repeal one of five methods to amend the Florida Constitution.

If the Legislature approves the resolution, the question would appear before voters on the 2022 ballot. The public would need to approve it by a 60% vote.

The CRC, created in 1968, meets every 20 years to make changes to the Florida Constitution. The commission met for the first time from 1977 to 1978. It met most recently from 2017 to 2018.

The commission, which Brandes called an “abomination of a republic,” is largely made up of appointees chosen by the Governor, the Senate President, the House Speaker and the Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice. That opens the door to commissioners who are donors and beholden to their appointers rather than Floridians.

“The constitution is our foundational document, and the CRC allows unelected individuals to tamper with it with zero accountability,” Brandes told senators.

In 2018, when the CRC placed seven amendments on the ballot, lawmakers and observers were irked by “bundling” unrelated propositions in amendments. That year’s Amendment 9, which banned offshore drilling and vaping in indoor workplaces, was the most notable of the several odd combinations from the CRC. Voters passed that amendment with 69% approval, far exceeding the necessary 60% threshold to finalize constitutional amendments.

“I have likened it previously to a game of Jumanji where we did not know what was going to come out of the box, where we did not know what the rules were, and we watched this unfold in front of us,” Brandes said. “It could potentially, and in cases did, radically change the Constitution of the state of Florida by combining things like oil drilling and vaping or smoking on different ballots that we had to vote for.”

Lithia Republican Rep. Mike Beltran is carrying the House version of the repeal (HJR 1179). That measure awaits a hearing in its final House committee after passing its first by a 12-4 vote that saw only two Democrats join Republicans on the majority side.

Both sides of the aisle, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have criticized the bundling process. But the effort to cancel the CRC isn’t unanimous despite Brandes’ mention that both Republicans and Democrats should back the effort so neither party can “get one up” on the other through the commission.

Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson, also of St. Petersburg, served on the most recent commission at the appointment of then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Republican from Land O’ Lakes. He stressed his opposition to bundling but said abolishing the CRC all together would remove an avenue to reviewing the constitution.

“I don’t think you can put lipstick on this pig,” Brandes replied. “I think at the end of the day, the best thing to do is put the pig down.”

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