BY CAROL WEISSERT
In the current election, Florida voters are being asked to decide whether to abolish one of Florida’s important ways citizens can directly have their voices heard.
If passed by 60 percent of Florida’s voters, Amendment 2 would abolish the Constitution Revision Commission, a board of citizens appointed by the governor, legislative leaders and the Supreme Court chief justice that meets every 20 years to review the state’s constitution and makes recommendations for change.
As one of the only states with a Constitution Revision Commission, Florida gives its citizens a rare and innovative opportunity to play an active role in democracy.
Enshrined in the state constitution, the 37-member Constitution Revision Commission travels the state to hear about the issues that matter most to Floridians, and proposes constitutional amendments that go right to the ballot for a public vote. Since 1968, the Constitution Revision Commission has convened only three times, most recently in 2017-18.
The third Constitution Revision Commission met and placed seven measures on the ballot on issues ranging from ethics to dog racing, offshore drilling to rights of crime victims. (An eighth was removed by the courts for a misleading title.) All the measures passed.
So why are we trying to change this — to essentially silence citizens? The argument is that several of the measures contained more than one item, called “bundling,” and thus were confusing. But apparently voters did not agree. Perhaps more telling is that the Legislature does not like having another entity that can put constitutional changes on the ballot. Certainly, this view is consistent with recent legislative measures to curb the use of the initiative process — a second way citizens can directly address issues that perhaps the Legislature wants to avoid.
It is noteworthy that both the initiative and the Constitution Revision Commission were placed in the 1968 constitution to respond to a frustration that there was no practical way around a Legislature entrenched against reform. Such reforms flowing from the first two Constitution Revision Commissions included requiring the state to make adequate provision for an efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality public education system, a local option for merit selection of trial judges, streamlining the state Cabinet to four officials (including the governor) and setting up a system of public financing for statewide candidates.
A 2019 LeRoy Collins Institute survey found that Floridians like having a body other than the Legislature listen to the people and propose updates to the state’s fundamental document. While few recognize the Constitution Revision Commission by name, an overwhelming majority — 87 percent — favor having a commission doing what the Constitution Revision Commission does.
The LeRoy Collins Institute has long supported the Constitution Revision Commission and continues to do so. The Constitution Revision Commission follows the advice of Thomas Jefferson, who thought that every generation should have the “solemn” opportunity to update its constitution. This solemn duty should not be lightly revoked. Please vote No on Amendment 2.
— Weissert, of Tallahassee, was the LeRoy Collins eminent scholar and a professor of political science at Florida State University 2003-21. She also served as director of the LeRoy Collins Institute, a statewide policy organization located at FSU. She has published in journals of political science, public administration and public policy, and is the author or co-author of four books.