Workplace vaping ban, new legislator residency rule closer to ballot

A ban on vaping in workplaces and a change in residency requirements for legislative candidates are a step closer to appearing on the 2018 ballot, but a proposal to give Florida’s chief financial officer more power to oversee state contracts has stalled after actions of the last two days by a committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

The committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the proposal to expand the state’s current smoking ban to include vaping devices.

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Former state Sen. Lisa Carlton, a member of the commission, said people are being adversely affected by public vaping because a ban on smoking in workplaces was passed by Florida voters in 2002, well before electronic cigarettes and other devices became available.

Florida Cancer Action Network lobbyist Heather Yeomans said her group supports the proposal but has suggested a number of changes, including eliminating the term “vapor generating devices” and replacing it with electronic smoking devices which, she said, would capture devices such as electronic hookahs, electronic pens and electronic cigarettes.

Yeomans said the Cancer Action Network also would like the proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate an existing exemption that allows people to smoke in some bars and hotels.

Also on Tuesday, the commission’s Executive Committee deadlocked twice in 3-3 votes over advancing a measure, sponsored by Commissioner Tom Lee, a Republican state senator from Thonotosassa, that would give the state’s chief financial officer, one of three Cabinet members elected statewide, a larger role in overseeing state contracts in excess of $10 million. The measure would also allow the CFO to participate in the process of estimating state revenue and other financial impacts.

Lee said despite Tuesday’s votes he plans to resurrect his proposal when the full Constitution Revision Commission meets. The commission has the power to place proposed constitutional amendments directly on the November 2018 ballot. To reach the ballot, however, Lee’s measure would have to win support from 22 of the 37 commission members. It would need support from 60 percent of voters to be enacted.

“We really don’t have a good healthy set of permanent controls in state government in how money is being spent,” said Lee, who plans to run for the CFO post next year. “That’s not responsible.”

Lee, a former Senate president and budget chairman, said what often happens is that the Legislature appropriates contract money, and if the governor agrees, “the vendor and their lobbyist work with the (state) agency to develop the contract language under which that money will be expended.”

But Attorney General Pam Bondi, another commission member, raised questions about the cost of the proposal, which could require hiring more staff and updating computer systems in the CFO’s office, as well as a possible constitutional “separation of powers” issue.

While Bondi voted for the measure, saying she was willing to try to work on those issues, three other committee members —- Darlene Jordan, Belinda Keiser and Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch — voted against the proposal, effectively stalling the measure.

On Wednesday, the commission’s Legislative Committee passed a proposal that would require a candidate to reside in the district he or she intends to represent at the time of qualification. Currently, they are only required to live in the districts when elected. The requirement, however, would not be applied in years of legislative redistricting, which often leads to substantial changes in district boundaries.

Without comment, the Legislative Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission approved the proposed change (Proposal 50), filed by committee Chairman Jose Felix Diaz, a former state House member.

“What it will stop is gamesmanship,” said Diaz, a Miami-Dade County Republican who is the committee chairman and who filed the proposal. “There are lot of folks that run for office in other parts of the state that are (from) many counties away just to play spoiler. This will stop that political maneuvering.”

To prevent what is being called “ballot fatigue,” members of the Constitution Revision Commission could group together proposals that the commission has endorsed.

The commission, which has 37 members, meets every 20 years to evaluate possible changes to the Constitution. The panel can put issues before voters without having to gather petition signatures or get proposals approved by the Legislature.

Members are considering dozens of proposed amendments, with those moving through the various committees expected to be considered by the full commission. If a proposal is approved by a majority of the commission members, it will be sent to the Style and Drafting Committee, which is charged with grouping the various proposals together.

Commissioner Brecht Heuchan, who chairs the Style and Drafting Committee, told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday that, ideally, the proposed amendments would be grouped by themes. But he warned that overarching themes such as health care, the environment or taxes may not be how they are ultimately grouped for voters. Another way to categorize proposals, Heuchan said, would be to group controversial or unpopular proposals in one proposed amendment and place other measures that have widespread support in another proposed amendment.

After the proposals are grouped, they would have to be considered one more time by the full commission. Members would have one more opportunity to try to amend or alter the proposals. Ultimately, only those that are supported by 60 percent of the commission will appear on the ballot in 2018.

And only those that are approved by 60 percent of the voters who go to the polls will be included in the state Constitution.

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