With each passing week, Florida's Constitution Revision Commission looks more like a farce than a faithful effort to enable the public to propose changes that the state's elected leaders refuse to consider. After holding public hearings and soliciting proposals from Floridians, the commission has advanced only six of the 2,012 public proposals submitted to it. This appears to be just another state board of puppets controlled by the political leaders who appointed them and who have their own narrow agendas.
Few exercises in Florida are as important as the commission's, which is created every 20 years to consider changes to the state Constitution. The commission has the power to place amendments directly on the 2018 ballot, giving it a fast track to voters to bypass the Legislature and make bedrock changes to the state's governing system.
To be fair, there wasn't any great hope this commission would move Florida in a better direction, as its members reflect the weak and narrow-minded focus of the politicians who appointed the members. Gov. Rick Scott controlled 15 appointees to the 37-member board and named its chairman. The Senate president and House speaker had nine appointments apiece, thereby giving Florida's existing political leadership the authority to shape the state for the next generation.
Commission chairman Carlos Beruff, a Bradenton developer, former U.S. Senate candidate and Scott go-to functionary, set the wrong tone from the start, exerting control over an ever-confusing rules process and refusing to even provide written clarity about open meeting rules for commission members. He brought no constitutional credentials to the helm, and the supporting cast of current and former legislators and other Tallahassee insiders leaves little space for a truly fresh and open examination of how to improve the Constitution.
The commission advanced a vague public proposal giving Floridians a "right" to clean air and water, another opening primary elections to all voters and one that expands privacy rights, among others. But hundreds of proposals rejected include measures that would limit money in politics, create a state commission on sea level rise and lead to other substantive changes, such as returning to an elected Public Service Commission that regulates utilities. The commission could adopt some of these public ideas as their own in future meetings, but those priorities are out of line with those that Scott and Speaker Richard Corcoran have called for, which include a requirement for a supermajority in the Legislature for new taxes and fees and for a repeal of the state's system of partial public financing of political campaigns.
More fundamentally, board members are not even clear themselves about the rules for discussing votes and lobbying other members. Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari, a CRC member, has tried to get an answer on this issue for months. Staff members dragged their feet and avoided creating a public paper trail by discussing the matter by phone. The CRC spokeswoman said the board would follow the same rule as the previous CRC, in 1997-98, that allowed limited private discussions, but this was a lost opportunity for the board to be more open in its deliberations.
Commissioners must decide by May which proposals, if any, to put on the ballot. They hardly have a slate of public-spirited amendments to show for their time. The next few months will tell if that has been the goal all along.