In November, voters will be 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 (CRC), 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 CRC, Florida gives its citizens a rare and innovative opportunity to play an active role in democracy. Enshrined in the state constitution, the 37-member CRC 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 CRC has convened only three times, most recently in 2017-18.
The third CRC 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 CRC 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 CRCs 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 CRC by name, an overwhelming majority – 87% – favor having a commission doing what the CRC does.
The LeRoy Collins Institute has long supported the CRC and continues to do so. The CRC 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.
Dr. Carol Weissert is a distinguished scholar of public policy and political science.