A coalition of progressive interests, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, on Wednesday chided the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) for leaving the public in the dust—and in the dark.
A CRC spokeswoman, however, later said its “No. 1 priority is to ensure that the public is actively involved and engaged.”
Pamela Goodman, the League’s president in Florida, spoke at a news conference on the steps of the old Capitol in Tallahassee.
The commission, which meets every 20 years to review and suggest rewrites to the state’s governing document, was throwing up “roadblocks to public engagement,” Goodman said. The first public hearing is Wednesday night in Orlando.
For instance, “the rushed actions of the CRC to date cause us to question how public participation and transparency will be taken,” said Goodman, the former president and CEO of the Limited Express clothing retailer.
The commission “meets for approximately one year, traveling the State of Florida, identifying issues, performing research, and possibly recommending changes to the Constitution,” its website says.
Its first public meeting, March 20 in Tallahassee, “was planned and commissioners were notified weeks in advance, but that meeting was not announced to the public until late afternoon of the Thursday before,” Goodman said.
“How can Floridians trust the (commission’s) intentions when no respect is shown for our need and right to have full notice of and access to everything that happens in the process?” she added.
Meredith Beatrice, the commission’s spokeswoman, said Chairman Carlos Beruff‘s “top priority is ensuring the public is involved and engaged in this short process.”
Another criticism was that the panel was beginning public hearings across the state during the 2017 Legislative Session: Five commissioners are current lawmakers and need to be in Tallahassee.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who appointed all those members, said Beruff immediately “disenfranchise(d) one sixth” of his panel. “I don’t think that is a good start,” he told reporters earlier this month.
Beruff is “working to … maximize both commissioner participation and public input,” Beatrice said.
The Orlando hearing “was publicly noticed over a week ago on multiple platforms (and) Chair Beruff announced it” at the organization meeting in Tallahassee, she added.
Notice of future meetings will be made public 1-2 weeks prior, all will be broadcast by The Florida Channel, and court reporters will transcribe each hearing, Beatrice said.
“Our top priority now is to hit the road and start talking to Floridians,” she said, adding that they soon will be able to submit their own proposals and comments through the commission’s website.
Any amendments the commission proposes would go on the 2018 general election ballot, and have to get 60 percent approval by voters to be added to the Constitution.
Other groups represented at Wednesday’s event included Common Cause and Florida Conservation Voters.