Published in the Orlando Sentinel, September 27, 2016
Among its many oddities, the Florida Constitution of 1968 has a provision that is as unique as the state it governs: the creation of a Constitution Revision Commission, held every 20 years, with the authority to propose revisions to the state’s constitution. The only check on this extraordinary committee’s work is the ballot box — there is no judicial review, executive veto or legislative remedy.
The history of the CRC is helpful to understanding both its potential and its effectiveness. The authors of the 1968 constitution began the CRC 10 years after the ratification of the constitution itself, which gives us only two data points to analyze: the first commission in 1977-78 and the second in 1997-98.
The first commission was appointed by a single party (the Democrats) and operated under an abbreviated schedule. Not a single measure received the required simple majority of the voters. The second CRC, with the benefits of more time to plan and bipartisan nominators, saw the citizenry ultimately approve eight of the nine final proposals.
The third CRC will be selected next year and, due to changes advocated for by the Florida Chamber in 2006, must pass their proposals by 60 percent of the popular vote. The 37 members of the CRC are appointed as follows: The governor appoints 15, the Senate president appoints nine, the speaker of the House appoints nine, the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court appoints three, and the attorney general (Pam Bondi, in the upcoming commission) is self-appointed.
As before, broad coalitions of Floridians will attempt to inform and bring policy research into the process. However, in the modern political arena, it is easier than ever before to message and over-simplify complex policy decisions in 140-character tweets and 30-second television ads. And for Florida, the risks of out-of-state billionaires or unusual campaigns are greater than before.
Regrettably, bad ideas still exist and the policy ramifications for a constitution are immense. The CRC can be seen as a great opportunity for our state, but because ordinary checks and balances on power do not apply to this committee, the CRC also holds incredible power over Florida’s constitution. Their decisions on topics ranging from gambling to education, redistricting to the courts, could impact Florida’s families and businesses well beyond the next 20 years. More than in any other political process in Florida, it is vital for the citizens to be informed, engaged and skeptical when our state’s constitution is being changed.
Many organizations, like the Florida Chamber of Commerce, have already begun the discussions on how best to approach the CRC.