State

Florida Legislature Moves to Abolish Constitution Revision Commission

On Jan. 27, the Florida legislature backed a measure to eliminate the Constitution Revision Commission, a panel that meets once every 20 years to propose amendments to the Florida Constitution.

The proposal, presented by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-Fla, received bipartisan support from the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee.

The Florida legislature has had its sights set on abolishing the commission for several years. However, calls to end it were renewed after the commission’s most recent meeting in 2018.

That year, the panelists chosen by former Gov. Rick Scott proposed measures to ban offshore oil drilling, vaping inside workspaces, and dog racing. All seven of the amendments proposed by the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission passed with over 60% of the vote. 

During its meeting in 1998, the commission proposed nine amendments, eight of which were passed by Florida voters. These included a restructuring of the state cabinet, optional waiting periods for the purchase of firearms, and the creation of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Although the commission’s proposals are popular with Florida voters, opponents in the state legislature argue it is undemocratic and has addressed issues better solved through traditional legislative means.

The commission’s dissolution would not threaten the ability to amend Florida’s Constitution, as proposed amendments can still reach the ballot through citizen initiatives or the state legislature.

In recent years various groups have moved to make amending the constitution through those avenues more difficult as well. In November 2020, Florida voters struck down one of the most overt attempts to hamper further revisions to the constitution, a proposed amendment that would require subsequent amendments to pass with a 60% supermajority in two consecutive elections.

The measure was funded by the Keep Our Constitution Clean PC, which on its website declares the proposed amendment would protect against “legislating” through the constitution. This proposal was staunchly opposed by a wide variety of activist groups such as the League of Women Voters and the ACLU. It was also publicly opposed by the Orlando Sentinel and the Gainesville Sun.

The amendment would have been the second like it in the country, and opponents worried its approval would make it nearly impossible for any grassroots initiatives to succeed due to the doubled campaign costs. Because the legislature already cut the time span for a petition to reach the signature requirement from eight years to two, Amendment 4 would effectively block all grassroots efforts to amend the constitution.

Since its revision in 1968, the Florida Constitution has been amended over 140 times, most recently in 2020 with the passage of Amendments 1, 2, 5 and 6. Of the successful amendments, only two were put on the ballot by the state legislature, while two more accrued the necessary 766,200 signatures to appear on the ballot as a citizen initiative.

The dissolution of the Constitution Revision Commission will not thwart all efforts to revise the Florida Constitution, but it will limit the avenues for proposed amendments to reach Florida voters while also abolishing a body that has consistently produced some of the state’s most popular ballot initiatives.

Featured Image: The Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, FL in 2016. Unmodified photo by Daniel Vorndran used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3aABu3Y)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.        

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