TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Voters in Florida are deciding whether to get rid of a commission that meets every 20 years to recommend changes to the state constitution, the only such panel among U.S. states to refer amendments directly to a statewide vote.
Opponents of the constitutional review commission say it has overstepped its original mandate, lacks accountability and has become a venue for new national politics to be drafted by a group of temporary officials who, unlike an elected legislature, are unelected appointees.
The commission isn’t the only way to get state amendments to the voters. The legislature can do so, as can citizens through initiative petitions.
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Still, some citizen groups don’t want to lose the commission, which Common Cause Florida calls “an important avenue for Floridians to change their state constitution.” The group is urging voters to reject the measure in a ballot that began in Florida on October 24 and ends on November 8.
The commission was created in the late 1960s and met in 1977-78, 1997-98 and 2017-18. Her critics say her intention was only to propose language changes or delete outdated provisions, although the constitution gives her broad authority to set her own rules, procedures and agenda.
The governor, Senate president, and House speaker — who in some years may all be from the same political party — appoint the panel’s 33 members. The President of the Supreme Court appoints three members and the Attorney General is automatically appointed.
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Critics say the panel’s membership is politically motivated and includes unaccountable bureaucrats, political donors and lobbyists.
“It’s run by people who don’t follow any rules and who aren’t elected,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who sponsored the bill to bring the measure to the floor. “What we’re seeing is this body that, with one party in control of the legislature and the governor’s seat, can effectively rewrite the Constitution, and I think that’s something that both Republicans and Democrats should be concerned about.”
At the last meeting, the commission put seven proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2018. Voters approved all seven. Some lawmakers complained that the committee lumped different topics into individual amendments. For example, one measure banned oil drilling in state waters and also banned vaping in places where smoking is prohibited.
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In any case, the commission’s recommended ballot questions were overshadowed that year by a citizens’ initiative measure that automatically restored voting rights to most felons who had completed their sentences, which also passed. Republican lawmakers later insisted that the law be clarified, requiring felons to pay all fines, restitution and legal fees as part of their sentences in order to regain the right to vote.
This is not the first time voters have been asked to abolish the commission. In 1980, voters rejected a similar ballot question, with 56.5% voting against and 43.5% voting in favor. Back then, Democrats controlled the governor’s office and the legislature. They are now controlled by Republicans.
In 1980, such ballot measures required a simple majority of yes votes to pass. However, they now require a higher hurdle, with the approval of 60% of voters.
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