2 more calls for constitutional conventions advance in the House
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 1/4/23-Rep. Danny Alvarez, R-Hillsborough County, during the House Agriculture Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Daniel Alvarez carried proposals for presidential line-item veto power and equal application of federal law.

Florida lawmakers have already asked for two separate constitutional conventions. Now proposals for two more are advancing in the House.

The House State Affairs Committee moved forward the two new resolutions. One (PCB SAC 1) would prohibit members of Congress from passing laws regulating citizens that exempt federal lawmakers. Another (PCB SAC 2) would give U.S. Presidents line-item veto power on federal budgets.

The discussions prompted a now frequent debate between House Republicans and Democrats on what guardrails exist for a constitutional convention.

Rep. Daniel Alvarez, a Tampa Republican, sponsored both new petitions, which were first filed two days ago. Alvarez pointed to a state law passed in 2014, which he said that makes clear any delegates sent by Florida to a constitutional convention must follow the state’s guidance at risk of criminal prosecution.

“That’s what begins to put the guardrails on the delegates and puts the pressure and the requirements on them,” Alvarez said. “Everything from an oath to acts of criminality. And then if they don’t do it or they try and act outside of the way that we’ve sent them up to act, then we revoke our request.”

Critics of the request say there’s simply no guarantee that in a federal process, delegates will remain bound by anything the state says or does. Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows for the document to be amended through a convention, but that’s never been done since the founding of the country, and many legal experts say there’s no predicting how one will operate if called.

“I do not believe in an Article V convention,” said Rep. Robin Bartleman, a Weston Democrat. “I don’t think this is necessary. I think it’s reckless. I think there are too many unanswered questions. I think they become sovereign representatives. Once they are appointed. I think they can do whatever they want to do.”

She and others pointed out that when a first Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in 1787, delegates immediately voted to make proceedings secret and then set about creating a governing model to completely replace the Articles of Confederation.

Alvarez said one big difference between then and now, though, is that the U.S. Constitution exists. The mere existence of Article V sets a process in place, he said.

The Legislature last month approved two other petitions to Congress, to call constitutional conventions respectively on a federal balanced budget and to set term limits for federal lawmakers.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has already endorsed all four proposals, though as concurrent resolutions, none require his signature and they are not subject to his veto.

As far as the actual substance of the latest proposed restrictions on federal government, lawmakers briefly discussed both the line-item veto and a prohibition on exempting members of Congress from federal law.

Alvarez noted multiple instances where federal lawmakers put requirements on every federal employee except themselves, including transparency requirements in the Freedom of Information Act. There are also anti-discrimination laws and whistleblower protections in place for employers across the country, but not for members of Congress.

“If you’re going to pass a law that covers the citizens of the United States, it should apply to you,” Alvarez said. “You’re not above the law.”

Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, noted similar situations exist in Florida, noting the Sunshine Law prohibits City and County Commissioners from meeting on business outside advertised meetings but state lawmakers face no such restriction.

Alvarez declined a suggestion of amending the requirement to apply to all Legislatures in the country.

On a line-item veto, a power enjoyed by Florida Governors, there was less debate on the issue itself. But Eskamani again raised concerns about giving Presidents too much authority.

“Presidents of both parties have dramatically expanded their power in the last 20 years,” she said. “Why do we want to give them more power if we’ve already had discussion here in opposition to the power of the federal government?”

But Alvarez said it was a reasonable check on members of Congress, who often may support federal spending based on local political pressures. That’s the same reason most modern Governors enjoy the power to strike specific items from state budgets while preserving the rest of spending.

“This is giving the President the power to edit the budget in order to try to bring us into alignment,” he said. “We’re a trillion dollars in debt, and that is a tool to allow him or her to fix that in the near future.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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