Sen. Jeff Brandes’ proposal to eliminate the Constitution Revision Commission through a constitutional amendment flew through its first committee Wednesday morning.
The joint resolution passed unanimously among the six member Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability — mirroring its path last Session.
For three straight sessions now, Brandes has filed legislation (SJR 204) that would abolish the 37-member commission, one of five methods in Florida to amend the state constitution. Last Session, the proposal sailed through the committee process with unanimous approval, but it never received a vote in the full Senate. Representatives in the House passed a similar amendment.
The commission, created in 1968, meets every 20 years to make changes to the Florida Constitution.
“In many ways, the Constitution Revision Commission is like a Pandora’s box that we open every 20 years — and none of us know what’s going to come out of it,” Brandes said at the meeting. “And it’s done by people who are not elected to the state of Florida, who are not accountable directly to the voters.”
Republicans, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have criticized the commission for “bundling” topics together in one proposed amendment. DeSantis announced his support for repeal at the end of the 2019 Session, citing the bundling issue as a major source of irritation.
In 2018, the CRC angered lawmakers after it placed seven amendments on the ballot and “bundled” unrelated propositions into amendments.
That year’s Amendment 9, which banned offshore drilling and vaping in indoor workplaces, was the most notable of the several odd combinations from the CRC. Voters passed that amendment with 69% approval, exceeding the necessary 60% threshold to finalize constitutional amendments.
Brandes’ proposal to repeal the commission would require voter approval because it would involve changing the Constitution. Along with receiving bipartisan support from lawmakers Wednesday, it drew backing from the conservative Americans for Prosperity-Florida and more-liberal groups such as the Florida National Organization for Women and the Florida Policy Action Network.
Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, said the commission in 2018 waded into issues that should be addressed by the Legislature. The 2018 version of the commission was mostly appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott, then-Senate President Joe Negron and then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
“Getting analyses from the CRC (the commission) on the various provisions was very difficult. When we did get those analyses, they were very thin. They were not well-researched,” Templin told the Senate committee. “And yet that body was able to deliberate and put on the ballot many legislative proposals that we felt were much more suited to your purview.”
At the committee meeting, Sen. Victor Torres noted he originally was planning on voting no on the proposal but changed his mind after hearing public testimony.
“I was just debating about it,” Torres said. “I can support and help you in this endeavor because I feel we need to have changes and make sure that everybody has the opportunity to express, and not be one sided, the way that commission was.”
The resolution now only needs to pass through the Senate Rules Committee before it heads to the Senate floor.
“There are still plenty of ways to amend the constitution in a thoughtful, rational process without opening the Pandora’s box of the Constitution Review Commission,” Brandes said. “And I think with this joint resolution, we have a chance to close that box and lock it away, and hopefully never see it again.”
Republican Rep. Brad Drake filed the House version of the resolution ahead of both the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Sessions. No House member has filed it yet for the 2021 Session.
While the Legislature has now twice failed to abolish the commission, lawmakers this year agreed to make it harder for citizen-driven proposals to appear on the ballot, a law DeSantis signed in April. And while lawmakers passed another proposed amendment requiring voters to approve future amendments twice, voters turned that down with only 52% supporting it.
Content from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.