Voters to decide fate of the Constitution Revision Commission
Capping a two-year effort, the Legislature has signed off on a ballot measure that will ask voters in 2022 to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission.
The House voted 86-28 on April 27 to approve SJR 204 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Valrico, sponsored the companion, HJR 1179. Joint resolutions must be approved by a three-fifths majority of both chambers, but do not require a governor’s signature.
“Please join me in protecting our Constitution and vote up on this bill,” Beltran said.
The 37-member, mostly appointed Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has the power to put measures directly on the ballot. The commission has met just three times since 1968.
Lawmakers began calling for its abolition after 2018, when the last CRC “bundled” a series of unrelated proposals into seven ballot questions, including one that asked voters to ban offshore drilling and indoor vaping. Voters approved it by a nearly 69% margin.
Some of the proposals were worthy, Beltran said, but most should have gone through the legislative process.
Beltran said that a “proliferation” of amendments over the past 50 years has “doubled” the size of the Constitution.
“The result is that our constitution is being diluted,” Beltran said. “Unfortunately, this is being contributed to by the CRC, which added seven amendments.”
Brandes and other critics argue that the commission wields too much power for an unelected body, and risks being captive of special interests.
“It’s rediscovered every 20yrs, has no rules, players have no experience, once it starts it can’t stop, crazy things pop out, and you never know how damaging they will be,” Brandes tweeted earlier this year. “Election night, you yell ‘Jumanji.’”
Critics of abolishing the CRC point out that the majority of the 150 amendments that were added to the Florida Constitution in the past 50 years originated with the Legislature.
Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who served on the 2017-2018 CRC, argued that the commission should be reformed, not abolished.
“We should improve, not reprove” the Constitution Revision Commission, Rouson said.
Democrats accused Republicans of trying to limit direct democracy to consolidate their power.
The day before, the Legislature approved a measure that would impose a $3,000 cap on contributions to political committees that support citizen initiatives. Another Republican proposal calls for raising the 60% voter threshold for approving ballot measures to a two-thirds majority, but the measure was put on hold in Senate Rules on April 20 and appears dead for this year.
Brandes and other CRC critics argue that with five avenues for amending the Constitution, Florida has the most direct democracy in the nation. In addition to legislative proposals, citizen initiatives, and the Constitution Revision Commission, there is a constitutional convention and the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. All require voter approval.