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October 15, 2017
CRC takes up citizen proposed amendments

A proposal to fix a loophole in an amendment from the 1997-98 Constitution Revision Commission on primary voting has become the first citizen-initiated amendment approved for further consideration by the current CRC.

The CRC, which met October 2 in Tallahassee, also agreed to take up a citizen-approved technical amendment to remove useless language from the constitution and to extend amendment filing deadlines because of Hurricane Irma’s disruption.

Carlos Beruff The first citizen amendment advanced by the commission was submitted by 15th Circuit State Attorney David Aronberg. It would close a loophole from a balloting amendment approved by voters from the 1997-98 CRC. That amendment provides if the only candidates qualifying for a partisan political post are from one party so that the primary winner will assume the office, then all voters regardless of party affiliation may vote in that primary.

Candidates have avoided that restriction by having write-in candidates file for the office. Aronberg’s amendment provides that if all candidates are from one party or the only opposition is from write-in candidates, then all voters may still cast ballots in the primary.

The CRC voted 27-3 to further consider that amendment. (Under CRC rules, 10 members must support a citizen-approved amendment in order for it to be considered further by the appropriate CRC committees.)

The second amendment was technical. It would remove art. X, §19, from the constitution. That mandates creation of a high-speed rail system in Florida and was made meaningless by a later amendment. The CRC voted 30-0 to advance that amendment.

Those actions came after CRC Chair Carlos Beruff asked members if there were any of the 1,400 amendments (only about half have been posted so far on the CRC’s website) filed by citizens that they wanted the full commission to consider. Beruff said the CRC will consider other citizen-sponsored amendments at future meetings.

On another matter, CRC member and former state Sen. Chris Smith noted about a dozen citizen-proposed amendments had been filed to restore civil rights, including voting rights, to felons once they had completed their sentences and any probation. He said those have been effectively advanced because he and CRC member and former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner are filing their own proposed amendment on that issue.

The CRC’s Rules and Administration Committee had recommended extending the deadline for proposing amendments in the wake of Irma’s chaos. The full commission approved allowing citizens to file amendments until October 6. The original cutoff had been September 22.

The CRC also extended the deadline for CRC members. They have until October 17, instead of October 10, to request drafting help from CRC staff for amendments and until October 31, instead of October 24, as a final deadline for submitting amendments.

The recommendation to extend filing deadlines came from the Rules and Administration Committee when it met in Tallahassee on September 25.

“So much of the state was impacted by Hurricane Irma. Many folks are still focusing their efforts on recovery,” Committee Chair Tim Cerio said, adding in those circumstances it was only fair to give residents more time to file their amendment ideas.

Committee members were told that so far around 1,400 citizen-proposed amendments have been submitted. About half have been listed so far on the CRC’s website.

Approval of the filing deadlines also included approval of a rule that commissioners should file any suggested amendments to a proposal with CRC staff 24 hours before the committee meeting where that proposal is scheduled to be considered. The deadline does not apply to full CRC meetings. Committee and CRC agendas are posted at least five days before scheduled meetings. Under current CRC rules, any commissioner can propose an amendment coming before a committee, even if he or she is not a member of that committee.

The commission had originally been set to have committee and full commission meetings during the last two weeks of September. Irma wiped out that schedule, with only the Rules and Administration Committee meeting on the 25th. Instead, the full commission met October 2, as well as the Rules and Administration and Style and Drafting committees, and the remaining committees, as earlier scheduled, could meet on the October 3 and 4. The full commission and committees, as earlier scheduled, will meet again October 17-19.

Further meetings are scheduled October 31-November 2, November 28-30, and December 12-14.

The CRC is a once-every-20-years panel empowered to propose constitutional amendments directly to voters, in this case for the November 2018 election ballot. Gov. Rick Scott appointed 15 members, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran each appointed nine, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga appointed three, and Attorney General Pam Bondi is an automatic member.

Members include former Bar Presidents Hank Coxe, who chairs the Ethics and Election Committee, and Bill Schifino, who chairs the Judicial Committee.

[Revised: 12-07-2017]