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House panel green-lights CRC reform bills

“We need to get this right for the voters of Florida.”

Floridians voted on a 12 amendments last year, but those measures covered well over a dozen subjects.

That slate of amendments included one that bundled a workplace vaping ban with a ban on offshore drilling, as well as another piecing together veterans issues with a mandate county constitutional officers be elected rather than appointed.

All the bundled amendments were put on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years to recommend changes to the state’s governing document.

The body — made up of commissioners appointed by the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President — was heavily criticized for the bundled amendments and now lawmakers are looking to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee considered two approaches.

The first, HJR 53, was brought forward by Neptune Beach Rep. Cord Byrd and Palatka Rep. Bobby Payne, who has a seat on the panel.

Their bill would require CRC amendments “embrace but one subject and matter directly connected therewith.” In other words, no more bundling.

“We need to get this right for the voters of Florida,” Byrd said.

With little discussion, committee members voted unanimously to advance the bill.

The second bill, Eucheeanna Rep. Brad Drake’s HJR 251, is a bit more extreme but was nearly as popular among committee members.

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Drake’s measure would eliminate the CRC altogether — no more 20-year review of the state constitution and no more political appointments. Drake was particularly critical of the last crop of commissioners, whom he said “served as a proxy vote for the people that appointed them” rather than as independent voices.

The North Florida Republican said that if the CRC was eliminated, there’d still be several avenues to pass constitutional changes — voters would still be able to bring forward initiatives via the petition method and lawmakers would still be able to place amendments on the ballot, for instance.

Drake also noted that the measure had broad bipartisan support and quoted Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson, who called it “a power to the people bill.”

After adopting an amendment cleaning up the language of the bill, it passed the committee with a near-unanimous vote — St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond provided the dissent.

The committee also gave its stamp of approval to HJR 249, a linked bill that would place the reforms from Drake’s other bill in front of Florida voters.

The next committee stop for all three CRC bills is the House Judiciary Committee.

Written By

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

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