Senators clash over state amendment at USFSP event • St Pete Catalyst


Voters will soon decide whether to retain or abolish the state’s Constitution Review Commission (CRC), an unelected body with the power to put constitutional amendments on ballots.

Ahead of the Nov. 8 election, the University of South Florida Institute for Public Policy and Leadership (IPPL) and the USF St. Petersburg Florida Curriculum and Center for Civic Engagement hosted two local political leaders with a vested interest in the issue. Dr. Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, Duckwall Professor of Florida Studies, and Casey Welch, Director of IPPL, moderated the discussion.

Tuesday’s Constitution Day event at the USFSP featured St. Petersburg Senator Jeff Brandes, who sponsored Amendment No. 2. The amendment would abolish the CRC if approved by 60% of voters. voters. Former Sarasota Senator Lisa Carlton served on the CRC from 2017 to 2018 and participated in the moderated debate virtually from the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

Both are Republicans, although their views on the subject vary wildly. However, as Welch noted, “there are no two greater champions for the St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee campuses than Senator Brandes and Senator Carlton”.

The CRC consists of 37 appointed members who meet every 20 years to review and propose changes to the state constitution. It returns constitutional amendments directly to the ballot for a public vote, an aspect unique to Florida.

The commission last met in 2017 and will meet again in 2037. According to Ballotpedia, the latest calls to abolish the CRC began in 2018, when people filed lawsuits against seven of the eight amendments offered. The litigation alleged that the commission improperly grouped several topics into a single voting question, and that the language was either inaccurate or misled voters.

While Carlton said the CRC was a way to “get the constitution into the neighborhoods”, Brandes compared it to the movie Jumanji.

As he explained, the film focuses on a game that people discover every two decades. There are no set rules and dice rolls usually result in negative results. Like gambling, Brandes said CRC operates outside conventional boundaries and most players lose.

“There are no rules – they can make them up as they go,” Brandes said. “You can put things like vaping and oil drilling together and put them on the ballot. The legislator cannot do that.

Brandes said the constitution is Florida’s foundational document from which all other laws emanate. While he agrees with a law banning indoor vaping, he’s not sure it requires a constitutional amendment “that ranks up there with free speech.”

In 1980, Brandes relayed, Democrats proposed an amendment to abolish the CRC, which subsequently failed. He said Republicans are now addressing the issue because both sides realize what could happen when you completely control the legislature.

He explained that a party appoints the members of the CRC, who are not accountable to voters. He said they are not even accountable to the people who selected them because removing someone you have chosen to sit on a commission “is just embarrassing”.

Carlton said the lawmakers who created the CRC in 1968 realized the state would grow and diversify geographically and culturally. She added that, unlike the US Constitution, Florida’s governing document is malleable.

“So in that spirit, the Founders wanted to give the people of Florida – the voters of Florida – the opportunity to have a say in what this document looks like,” Carlton said. “The amendments must go to 60%. So you get yet another filter. They not only have to go through a CRC process, but they have to be adopted by the people. »

The commission, Carlton explained, holds public hearings across the state so average voters can provide guidance. While there are other ways for residents to bring ballot initiatives, she said it usually takes millions of dollars and must pass Supreme Court review.

Carlton called the CRC the “true voice” of the people, while Brandes countered that corporate lobbyists seat many people at these meetings.

Carlton admitted that some speakers are registered lobbyists, as in other government hearings. She then explained that she authored the indoor vaping amendment due to personal experiences and a lack of legislative action on this and other topics.

“You had a lot of opportunities to do something, and now it’s the citizens’ turn,” Carlton added. “And so, that’s what happened.”

Ultimately, Carlton said it wasn’t about what she or Brandes thought. She said it is up to voters to make the final decision on whether an idea deserves to be enshrined in the constitution.

Brandes said the ballot initiatives essentially mislead voters with convoluted wording and misleading headlines. He recalled that he expected a solar bill he was supporting to fail because they questioned the language and not the title.

It garnered more than 60% of the votes needed to pass, Brandes said, because people only read the title.

Amendment No. 2 and several other state and local initiatives impacting everyday life will be on the Nov. 8 ballot. For more voter information, visit the Supervisor of Elections website here.


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