You like veterans, right? Sure, everybody does.
And terrorism is bad. Floridians want their homeland to be secure.
So ... let’s trample the express will of voters in eight Florida counties, including Volusia County! For the veterans! And security!
If you’re confused, you’re not the only one.
The deliberations of Florida's Constitution Revision Commission have been one long roller-coaster ride of controversy, which could go right off the rails this week if the commission approves a move to “bundle” 24 ballot questions down to 12, with the fairly transparent goal of wrapping several inflammatory measures in coats of feel-good puffery. The veterans/anti-terrorism/demolition of local control proposal is just one example — the core proposal would, if approved by voters, undo local voter decisions that have been in place for decades, such as Volusia County’s charter provision abolishing the elected office of tax collector. That proposal also opens the door for the Legislature to award control over county jails to the elected sheriff.
In most cases, controversial elements are bundled with “sweeteners” that really have no place in the state constitution, because it’s something the Legislature easily could do on its own. Florida already has a Department of Veterans’ Affairs, for example — and nobody has ever seriously suggested abolishing it, because people love veterans. Meanwhile, there’s been no outcry for another (constitutionally mandated) layer of “homeland security” bureaucracy. Finally, giving lawmakers permission to shift their annual session forward a few months is just silly, given that they did exactly that in 2018, and did not burst into flames.
Other “bundles” include:
*A measure that gives the state the ability to override local school boards’ authority over charter-school applications, bundled with eight-year term limits for local school board members and mandatory civics education in high schools.
*A higher bar for any increase in fees in the university system, tied to free tuition for the survivors of first responders and military who die in the line of duty (seriously, who could vote against that?), and constitutional recognition of the state college system — the 28 institutions once known as “community colleges.” There is a slight glimmer of logic to that last measure, in light of the sharp cuts inflicted on state colleges in recent sessions, but the solution is to elect smarter legislators, not carve new language into the bedrock of state government.
*An odd proposal that would apparently give judges more leeway in interpreting state laws, bundled with expanded victims’ rights in criminal trials and a bump up in Florida’s mandatory retirement age for judges.
*And a pairing of two utterly unrelated issues: One that bans oil and gas drilling in state-controlled waters, and another that would extend Florida’s indoor smoking ban to the practice known as “vaping.”
There’s only one “bundled” proposal that merits consideration, and it’s one most constitutional revision commissions adopt: A cleanup amendment that would remove obsolete references and old projects from the Constitution.
The commission also has six standalone provisions under consideration this week, including an ethics proposal that could be a welcome move for Florida, a provision granting school districts the same kind of flexibility enjoyed by charter schools and a ban on greyhound racing. They aren’t bad ideas — which is why the Legislature should be encouraged to act on them. Most don’t belong in the state constitution.
The commission's proposed amendments go straight to the ballot with no court review, which gives it a big responsibility — and commissioners are blowing it. This week’s meetings may be the last chance for the commission to come to its senses. Voters don't need this mess, and they shouldn't be asked to wade through it.