After serving for years in Florida’s legislative process, my service on the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission was, in a word, refreshing.
The CRC has been a part of Florida’s fabric since 1965. The commission convenes every 20 years and is responsible for reviewing our state constitution and proposing changes in the form of constitutional amendments that will appear on the election ballot.
Much ado has been made over "groupings" in the proposed constitutional amendments that will be offered to voters in the November election. Some commentators, editors and special-interest groups apparently doubt that Florida voters are smart enough to study and resolutely decide how to vote on the eight amendments put forward by the commission. Some have even attacked grouping as a new tactic designed for ulterior motives.
They would do well to brush up on Florida history. The facts are as follows.
The original architects of the CRC did not require that the commission be constrained by the single-subject rule, and for good reason! The CRC was intentionally established as an independent constitutional body to give the people of Florida, regardless of their level of influence or income, direct input on necessary constitutional change. Accordingly, in grouping related ideas into fewer amendments, the 2017-18 CRC followed historical precedents of both the 1978 and the 1998 commissions.
Critics of grouping certainly are entitled to their own opinions, and in Florida they have the option to work toward a proposed constitutional amendment to change the process.
However, it is duplicitous and shortsighted to hide behind one’s disagreement with an issue’s merits by promoting the false idea that grouping is a new concept. This is called "hiding the ball" in the halls of Tallahassee, and it does not serve our citizens.
Over the course of more than a year, thousands of citizens attended the CRC’s 15 public hearings held across the state. The public submitted more than 2,000 ideas, and commissioners formally filed 103 proposals. After exhaustive public input, expert testimony and lively debate among the CRC members, 20 ideas in the form of eight amendments will appear on the November ballot.
The eight amendments are bold and transformative. They include ideas that make some special-interest groups uncomfortable. Many of the amendments represent issues that have languished for years. Some of the ideas would not have stood a chance in Florida’s political halls and chambers.
One reason that these issues finally will have their day in the sunshine is because the CRC’s 37 members, while appointed by the governor, speaker of the Florida House, president of the Florida Senate and chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, were all volunteers and mostly private citizens. Many commissioners had no historical background on the various issues and were able to offer fresh perspectives during discussion.
I referred to my experience on the CRC as “refreshing” because, during my years in the Legislature, I watched as earnest debate unfolded on issues that had died routinely. It was empowering to see a group of citizens tackle Big Oil, Big Tobacco and the pari-mutuel industry.
The CRC members, unlike legislators, do not have the luxury of waiting a year for the next legislative session. “Next session” for the CRC doesn’t come around for another 20 years.
I encourage voters to examine the substance of the proposals so they have the information they need to make informed decisions on Election Day. Highlights of the eight amendments on the ballot this November include:
• Amendment 6, Rights of Crime Victims. It is a traumatizing experience to find yourself the victim of a crime. We heard testimony from dozens of crime victims. They told us personal stories of how they were victimized all over again by a judicial process that did not provide a safe harbor for them to have a voice. Amendment 6 will provide constitutional protection to those victims and ensure that their voices will be heard. Amendment 6 also includes a provision that will move the retirement age of judges from 65 to 70. The goal is to keep the most seasoned on the bench.
• Amendment 7. This proposed amendment’s provisions relate to higher education and provide tuition benefits to the family members of our first responders and military members killed in the line of duty; place our State College System, the best in the nation, within our constitution; and limit fees at the university level.
Grouped within Amendment 8 are education-themed issues that include term limits for school board members, more school choice for our students without the constraints of local politics and requiring civics lessons in public schools.
• Amendment 9, Prohibition on Offshore Drilling. If there is a legacy of the 2018 CRC, it will be Amendment 9. This is our opportunity, as Floridians, to stand up to oil companies and, with one voice, say: “Not off our shores!” The latest discovery of the 7,000-year-old Native American ancestral burial site in the Gulf of Mexico near Venice is further evidence of the need to protect our shores from oil production.
Amendment 9 also provides for an update to the ban on work-place smoking to include e-cigarettes. Since the e-cigarette smoking technology did not exist when the original constitutional language was adopted in 2002, this will ensure that smoke-free also means vape-free. The two issues are grouped within the environmental/health theme of clean air and water.
• Amendment 10: This proposal's groupings include a state and local government-structure theme, a mandate that constitutional officers be elected, and a requirement that the state have an office dedicated to domestic security.
• Amendment 11. Its provisions delete obsolete language, remove a discriminatory provision regarding land ownership, and correct an injustice in criminal sentencing.
• Amendment 12, Ethics in Public Office. This proposal bans elected officials from being paid as lobbyists for private interests while serving the public and prohibits former elected officials and heads of state departments from lobbying for six years after they leave office. If passed, Florida will have the strongest ethics laws in the country.
• Amendment 13, Ban on Greyhound Racing and Wagering. For 20 years, greyhounds have been victims of a Florida law that requires racing in order for tracks to partake in profitable card-room activities. Greyhound racing is a bloody practice that costs more to regulate than it generates in revenue. It’s time for Florida to join the 40 states that have outlawed this archaic activity.
It was an incredible honor for me, once again, to participate in policy discussions, interact with the public and learn about issues that Floridians feel are worthy of inclusion in the Florida Constitution.
I am proud of the work we have done and confident that voters will be able to sort through the rhetoric, study the substance of each proposal, and decide how they want Florida to look for the next generation.
Lisa Carlton is a lawyer and co-owner and manager of the Mabry Carlton Ranch in Sarasota County. She was elected to the Florida Legislature in 1994 and served until 2008, first in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate. She was appointed to the Constitution Revision Commission by Gov. Rick Scott.