It’s almost showtime for the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, a somewhat-obscure but powerful group that can have a major impact on the state’s future.
The commission is obscure in the sense that it meets only every 20 years. But it is very powerful in its unique authority to place proposed constitutional changes before voters on the November ballot.
This week, the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee endorsed a package of a dozen ballot proposals that embody 24 potential changes to the Florida Constitution. If the measures win support from at least 22 of the 37 commission members, they will be placed on the Nov. 6 general-election ballot.
Six of the ballot measures include two or more potential constitutional changes. In all, those measures represent 18 proposed changes that were initially advanced by the commission.
For instance, one measure (PCP 6003) combines three major education issues, including proposed eight-year term limits for school board members, a requirement to teach “civic literacy” in schools and a measure that could make it easier to approve charter schools.
Another measure (PCP 6004) combines a proposed ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters with a ban on vaping or electronic cigarettes in workplaces.
Six other ballot proposals have single topics, including a proposed ban on greyhound racing, new ethics standards for public officials, a requirement for a worker-verification process and a revision that could open more primary elections to all voters.
Beginning April 16 in the Florida Senate chamber, the commission will make final decisions about which of those proposals will be placed on the November ballot. In addition to approving or rejecting the measures, the commission could modify the proposals.
If the commission approves all 12 of the ballot proposals advanced by the Style and Drafting Committee, they would join five constitutional revisions already on the 2018 ballot. Those include measures on gambling, homestead tax breaks, restoration of felons’ rights and a requirement for a supermajority vote by the Legislature on future tax and fee increases.
The potential for 17 ballot proposals raises the specter of voter “fatigue” when Floridians go to the polls. Voters could face a long list of decisions in addition to the host of political races that will be before them, including races for a U.S. Senate seat, governor and the state Cabinet.
Commission members are aware of the history of the two previous panels.
In 1978, the commission advanced eight ballot proposals, which were all rejected by voters along with a citizens’ initiative on casino gambling.
In 1998, the commission put nine proposals on the ballot, and eight were approved by voters along with four constitutional changes that had been advanced by the Legislature.
An added twist this year is that the proposals will be the first commission measures subject to a requirement that they receive support from at least 60 percent of the voters. The 1978 and 1998 ballot packages were subject to majority votes.
VOTING RIGHTS BATTLE
Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet are not backing down in their legal fight with a federal judge over the state’s controversial process for restoring ex-felons’ voting rights.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has ordered state officials to come up with a new rights-restoration process by April 26 after finding the current process gives Scott and the Cabinet members, who sit on the Board of Executive Clemency, “unfettered discretion” in deciding whether former felons should have their rights restored after completing sentences.
Scott and the Cabinet members on Wednesday filed an appeal of Walker’s ruling with the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, while also requesting a stay of the requirement to quickly revamp the process. Walker quickly denied the stay.
″(The) injunction in this case does not just prevent the state from effectuating state law,” the state’s motion said. “It also directs four of the state’s highest-ranking executive officers to revamp a 150-year-old vote-restoration scheme in 30 days. A federal court order requiring state officials to come up with new state policies impinges on the sovereignty and autonomy of the state.”
Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office is handling the appeal, also criticized Walker’s decision as she talked with reporters on Thursday.
“We have been following the law,” Bondi said. “We firmly believe that it is the law in the state of Florida. We plan on enforcing the laws. That’s what I do as the chief legal officer of the state of the Florida. So, yes, we are appealing it. We will appeal it to the highest court.”
Restoration of voting rights has long been a controversial legal and political issue in Florida. After taking office in 2011, Scott and Bondi played key roles in changing the process to effectively make it harder for felons to get their rights restored.
Under the current process, ex-felons must wait five or seven years after their sentences are complete to apply to have rights restored. After applications are filed, the process can take years to complete.
Florida voters will get to weigh in on the issue in November with a ballot initiative, Amendment 4, that would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, completed parole or probation and paid restitution. Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded under the measure, which must win support from at least 60 percent of the voters to be enacted.
Florida took another step this week in its effort to move beyond a state best known as a tourist destination, as the National Science Foundation announced it has renewed support for the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, with an investment of $184 million over the next five years.
The announcement was anticipated, but nonetheless it reaffirms that Florida, with the main MagLab facility at Florida State University, will also be a place where cutting-edge scientific research is conducted.
The new award, which is 10 percent higher than the previous five-year award, brings the National Science Foundation’s total funding for the MagLab and related facilities to $867 million.
The MagLab boasts the strongest research magnets in the world, including a continuous high-field magnet at 45 teslas and a pulsed magnet that can provide a magnetic field of 100 teslas, some 2 million times stronger than the earth’s magnetic field. For comparison, a refrigerator magnet has about .01 teslas.
“This one-of-a-kind facility is an important part of Florida State University and the entire Florida economy,” FSU Vice President for Research Gary Ostrander said.
STORY OF THE WEEK: The Florida Constitution Revision Commission will consider a dozen ballot proposals that embody 24 potential changes to the state Constitution. The commission’s Style and Drafting Committee on Thursday approved the ballot package, which will be debated by the full commission beginning April 16 and, if approved, would be placed before voters in the November general election.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “They remind me of disobedient children who whine about being punished for doing something they knew was wrong and were warned about the consequences.” --- National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, responding to a lawsuit from 10 South Florida cities challenging the constitutionality of a 2011 state law that provides penalties for local government officials if they try to impose gun-control regulations that exceed a statewide standard.