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House doesn’t consider CRC amendments

Senior Editor Regular News

Time ran out in the 2019 Florida legislative session for two constitutional amendments affecting the Constitution Revision Commission as the House adjourned without taking up its own or two joint resolutions sent over by the Senate.

Constitution Revision Commission logoOne measure would have prohibited future CRCs from “bundling” — putting more than one issue in any amendment it sends to voters. The second would have outright abolished the once-every-20-year institution that is empowered to place constitutional amendments directly on the ballot.

The Senate approved SJR 362 abolishing the CRC on April 26, a week before the scheduled end of the session. The vote was 35-4. It earlier had unanimously sent SJR 74, limiting the CRC to a single issue in any amendment sent to voters. Amendments proposed by the Legislature or through initiative petition already have the single-subject restriction.

“I do plan to introduce it again next year,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sponsor of SJR 362. “I want to find out from our friends in the House what happened. It had overwhelming bipartisan support.”

He noted that if approved in the 2020 session, it would still appear on the 2020 election ballot.

The House had two bills, HJR 249 and HJR 251, to abolish the CRC and one, HJR 53, with the single-subject limitation, reach the floor. But neither the House bills nor the Senate measure were ever considered in the closing days of the session.

“I was disappointed that neither of the two CRC revision bills passed both chambers. There is broad bipartisan support for changes to the CRC due to ballot confusion during the last election cycle,” said Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Jacksonville Beach, who sponsored the single-subject amendment and co-sponsored one of the repeal amendments. “I am not aware as to what happened to these two bills in the final days of session. Many other good bills also died. There is only so much time and energy in any given session.”

He added, “As to whether I will file the bill again next year, I have not made that decision. I am constantly evaluating old and new legislation given the limitations in the House of only being allowed to file six bills. Whether or not I am the one to file legislation next session, I remain committed to making the ballot process work as well as possible for all voters.”

In debate on the Senate floor, Brandes said the CRC isn’t needed because amendments can be presented to voters by the Legislature or through the initiative process, and that there are inadequate checks on how the CRC operates.

“We know they have no rules; they can do whatever they choose. They can bundle. They can combine. The rules are really up to them. They really aren’t bound by anything. That to me is incredibly challenging, incredibly dangerous,” he said. “It’s time that we at least proposed to [voters] that we do away with this ‘Jumanji’-like body.”

However, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who served on the CRC last year, said it was too soon to reach that conclusion and defended the agency as another way Floridians can affect government, including if they find the Legislature unresponsive.

“I just think we’re throwing the baby out with the bath water here,” he said. “What’s happened over the past 20 years is. . . our state has moderated. We’re a purple state. We have deep red pockets and we have deep blue pockets, but when blended all together, it’s purple. But the Legislature, the executive branch, have been conservative.”

The Constitution Revision Commission is unique to Florida governance. Established in the 1968 Constitution, it meets every 20 years. The governor appoints 15 members, the Senate president and House speaker each appoint nine members, the Supreme Court chief justice picks three, and the attorney general is an automatic member.

The next CRC meets in 2037-38.

Last year’s CRC approved nine amendments for the November general election ballot, seven of them covering multiple topics. The Supreme Court removed one amendment, citing confusing ballot language, and voters approved the eight remaining CRC offerings.