Florida’s 39-member Constitution Revision Commission is catching flak for “grouping” items among the eight proposals it has voted to place before the electorate. For example, the first item combines victims’ rights, a judicial rule of statutory interpretation, and the judicial retirement age. Brecht Heuchan, the businessman-lobbyist who chaired the CRC’s Style and Drafting Committee, believes the criticism is unwarranted in light of precedents set by past commissions. Heuchan discussed his takeaways from the revision process in an interview with Florida Politics.
FP: Are you satisified with the overall process? Did it allow everyone’s voice to be heard?
BH: Oh, sure. We had 15 public hearings. We had thousand and thousands of people come out to those hearings. Then we had tons of committee hearings where the public could be heard and commissioners could make their voices heard. We had a lot of floor sessions, as well.
The process of the groupings has been criticized by some in the media and some in the special interest group category. But I don’t think you’ll find a commissioner who’ll say they weren’t heard, or that the process stymied them. Certainly, not everybody got their way, including me. But I felt like my voice was heard, and I’m quite certain others feel the same way.
FP: Let’s talk about the grouping process then. Define if for me, and what do you think about it?
BH: Related items can be grouped together into one amendment that goes on the ballot. This process was done in both of the prior Constitutional Revision Commissions. In 1978, they had eight proposals; they were all grouped — all of them. In 1998, they had nine proposals and eight of them were grouped. without the apparent outrage. We actually did less grouping than the prior two commissions had done — we grouped six proposals and left six of them standing by themselves. It was a balance. We took that process very seriously, and the outcome shows it.
We are operating under the 1968 Constitution — subsequently amended, of course. That constitution was about 23,000 words. It was grouped into three amendments. Three — not eight, not nine, not 12, but three. Amendment No. 1 was about seven or eight of the 12 articles that we currently have, all put into one revision.
FP: This does not implicate the single-subject rule for amending the Constitution, because you’re the CRC?
BH: That’s correct. The single-subject rule applies to citizens’ initiatives, it applies to the Legislature, but it does not apply to the CRC. The drafters envisioned an avenue for more comprehensive change, subject to the will of the voters. They didn’t want the CRC or the people of Florida to be hindered by the single-subject requirement.
Just take what our CRC did — there were 20 amendments that passed individually. Instead of the eight they will be considering, they would be considering 20. The ultimate benefit is to the voter who does not have to wade through an extraordinarily long ballot.
FP: And we don’t get a phone book-sized list of propositions like they do in California?
BH: It’s a trade off. The other thing is that in some areas of our state those ballots have to be translated into multiple languages. One of the things that we heard repeatedly from supervisors of election is to be careful how many you put there. Especially since two citizens’ initiatives were already on the ballot, and three were put there by the Legislature. I thought we did a good job of coming to some balance.
FP: Let’s talk about the Keep Our Constitution Clean group, which has criticized grouping.
BH: They’re not organized as a political committee, so they don’t disclose their donors, how they’re spending their money, who runs the organization. I find it incredibly hypocritical that groups like that are operating and no one’s calling them to task. My suspicion is that is that they don’t like the policies that the CRC has recommended to the voters, so they’re attacking the process. It’s dubious what they’re doing. It sounds good, but no one knows if it is good.
FP: Let’s get back to the CRC process. Was it too hard? Too easy?
BH: Amending the Constitution is supposed to be hard. You saw that in some of the outcomes. We started with a couple of thousand public proposals. Those were whittled down to 103 commissioner proposals. Those were whittled down through the committee process to 24 that were sent to the Style and Drafting Committee. Then they were whittled down to the 20 individual proposals that made it into eight amendments.
But it was remarkable the way the group did work together, and did complete our task — well ahead of schedule, I might add, and frankly with not a lot of dispute. The disputes we had were more than collegial and respectful of one another.
FP: We’re going to be back here 20 years from now. Any advice to those people?
BH: Be open-minded to other people’s views. Do your best to think through the rules you’re operating under. Try to think ahead. Our rules were inclusive, but they also gave a lot of authority to individual members, so I would recommend doing that again.
This may be down in the weeds, but we had two different vote thresholds — a majority vote threshold to send a proposal to Style and Drafting, and an affirmative vote of 22 to send something to the ballot. In retrospect, would have preferred to have the same vote threshold, whatever that is. Whether a majority or 22, it should just be the same.
One other piece of advice is to be aware of how much work it is — how much of your time is going to be required. It’s designed for citizens, people who have regular lives, and no one gets paid to do this. You’re going to give up other parts of your life to fully commit to this, whether your personal time or your work time or other things you like to do. It takes a lot of time, care, and attention — all of which it deserves.