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Panel Tees Up Proposed Changes To Constitution

Mary Shedden
WUSF Public Media

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission is heading to the finish line, with a dozen ballot proposals up for final votes this week.

The 37-member commission, which is unique to Florida, meets every 20 years and has the power to place proposed changes to the state Constitution directly on the Nov. 6 general-election ballot.

After months of committee hearings, 15 public hearings across the state and preliminary debate and floor votes, the commission is ready for a series of final decisions on the proposed ballot issues. The commission will meet Monday in the Capitol and could continue meeting throughout the week.

Each of the 12 proposals must be supported by at least 22 members to be placed on the ballot. Proposals then would have to be supported by at least 60 percent of voters in November to be enacted.

The 12 ballot proposals actually contain two dozen changes to the state Constitution because six of the measures contain multiple issues. The other six proposals are single-subject ballot measures.

One example of a ballot proposal grouping several topics is a measure (Proposal 6004) that combines a ban on drilling for gas and oil in state coastal waters with a prohibition on vaping or the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces.

An example of a single-subject proposal is a measure (Proposal 6012) that would ban greyhound racing at Florida tracks after Dec. 31, 2020.

The bundling of multiple proposals in single ballot proposals was sharply criticized by a coalition of groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the First Amendment Foundation, the Florida AFL-CIO and the League of Women Voters of Florida.

In a letter to Constitution Revision Commission members, the coalition said the bundling of the proposals before final votes on each measure was a “dramatic departure” from 1998, when the commission voted on each issue separately before deciding which proposals would be grouped together.

“Some of the groupings appear to be designed to force commissioners and voters to accept constitutional changes they do not like in order to get those that they do,” the coalition said.

The coalition specifically criticized a grouping (Proposal 6003) that combines term limits for school-board members and a mandate to teach civic literacy with a more-controversial proposal that could allow state authorization of charter schools over the objections of local school districts.

“We can all smell an attempted political manipulation a mile away. And right now this process is not passing the smell test,” the coalition said.

County government advocates have objected to the grouping in another measure (Proposal 6005), which would require all charter county governments to have elected, rather than appointed, constitutional officers, including sheriffs. The counties want to retain the current constitutional provision that allows voters to decide between elected and appointed posts.

In testimony before the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, Miami-Dade County officials asked for the charter- county proposal to be a separate issue rather than grouped with measures, such as the creation of a state counterterrorism office, that are likely to draw strong voter approval.

A handful of the 12 ballot proposals did not receive the required 22 votes when the full commission advanced them for further consideration, raising the possibility they may fall short again in the final votes.

Among them is a proposal (Proposal 6010) that would require the creation of an employment verification system to determine if workers are legally authorized to work under federal immigration laws. Opponents have called the measure “anti-immigrant,” and it has drawn opposition from agriculture interests and some business groups. It initially advanced in a 19-13 vote.

Any ballot proposals approved by the commission will join five constitutional revisions already on the November ballot. They include measures on gambling, homestead tax breaks, restoration of felons’ rights and a requirement for supermajority votes by the Legislature on future tax and fee increases.

In 1978, the commission advanced eight ballot proposals, which all were rejected by voters along with a citizens’ initiative on casino gambling.

In 1998, the commission put nine proposals on the ballot, and eight were approved by voters along with four constitutional changes that had been advanced by the Legislature.