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CRC amendments advance in the Legislature

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Lawmakers weigh abolishing the CRC or requiring it to stick to single-subject amendments

A bill to do away with the once-every-20-year Constitution Revision Commission and another to limit future CRCs to proposing one subject per amendment are moving in both chambers, and the Senate has unanimously passed the latter.

On March 27, the Senate voted 40-0 to send voters a constitutional amendment requiring future CRCs to have only one topic on each of its proposed amendments — the same limitation that applies to legislative and citizen initiative generated amendments.

Six days earlier, the House Judiciary Committee approved and sent to the House floor HJR 249, an amendment which would ask voters to abolish the CRC.

Sen. Rob Bradley“Today is the day we end bundling,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, sponsor of SJR 74.

In presenting the bill on the Senate floor on March 21, Bradley said “After the election the one issue that I heard over and over from my constituents is they were disappointed by those amendments that were bundled.”

The amendment drew bipartisan praise, including from Sen. Daryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, both of whom served on last year’s CRC.

Lee said the CRC leadership failed to understand that the procedural rules that worked for the bipartisan 1998 CRC would not work well for the 2018 version, which was highly partisan. He called the amendment, “A step in the direction of good government.”

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-Miami, said voters are “robbed” when they have to choose when voting on an amendment that contains provisions they both oppose and support.

“When our Constitution Revision Commissions meet, they ought to be limited to a single subject. If they are not, what we saw in the 2018 election is likely to be repeated,” he said.

The 2018 CRC sent nine amendments to voters, one of which was struck by the Supreme Court. Two covered single issues (state government ethics and greyhound racing) and the remainder covered two to four issues each. Voters did approve all eight CRC amendments.

Arguments at the House Judiciary Committee on HJR 249 echoed those from earlier hearings — instead of looking at constitutional issues, the CRC focused on policy matters that should have been left for the Legislature and confused voters by “bundling” more than one issue in several amendments.

“There was a constitutional amendment on the ballot that mixed a prohibition of vaping [in the workplace] with a prohibition of offshore drilling,” said Rep. Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, sponsor of HJR 249. “There were several others that just didn’t make sense.”

(CRC members had argued that the vaping and drilling issues justified sharing an amendment because both were environmental issues. Likewise, another amendment grouped the Marsy’s Law victims’ rights provisions with raising the judicial retirement age from 70 to 75 and repealing the “Chevron doctrine” because those were all deemed to be court-related matters.)

“We’ve gone to a super political committee,” Drake added. “We saw this last cycle there were members who sole purpose was to be a proxy vote for those who had appointed them.”

Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, said the CRC could have spent time culling useless or improper language or provisions from the Constitution, such as the pregnant pig amendment or reviewing and streamlining multiple property tax breaks, but didn’t.

“This is the right thing to do,” he said. “Is there a way to salvage this commission so you could direct them to do what they were designed to do? I think the only way to do that is author another constitutional amendment and define what revision is. . . and then that would have to pass the voters.”

However, Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, said while he was disappointed in last year’s CRC, limiting it to single subject amendments might be the answer. He added that the 1978 and 1998 CRCs were considered much more effective and on point in their recommendations.

“I’m not yet persuaded we should abolish or throw it out,” Diamond said. “The reason for that is I think how much our state has changed since we became a state in 1845.. . . The CRC provides a forum for us to think about big items on the structure of government.”

Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Dania Beach, suggested voters should be given the power to adopt statutes by initiative, which would address the issue of the CRC dipping into policy instead of constitutional matters.

The amendment passed the committee 15-2 and now heads to the House floor.

HJR 53, the House CRC single-subject amendment has passed the Civil Justice Subcommittee and the State Affairs Committee and is pending in the Judiciary Committee, its final committee stop.

SJR 362, to abolish the CRC, has passed the Judiciary and Governmental Oversight committees and is now pending in the Rules Committee, its last stop before going to the floor.

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