It’s already a very long ballot in a supercharged election year.
This November, Floridians will vote for governor, attorney general and other Cabinet posts. We’ll have a marquee Senate race in Bill Nelson vs. Rick Scott. We’ll be voting for members of Congress and state Legislature and for three Palm Beach County commissioners.
The ballot also includes five proposed amendments, any of which will become part of the Florida Constitution if 60 percent of voters approve.
You, the voter, will be asked whether to restore voting rights to felons who’ve served their sentences (killers and rapists excepted). Whether to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass a tax or fee. Whether to approve two types of property tax breaks. Whether the question of casino gambling should be settled by voters, not legislators.
Don’t get worn out just yet. If the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) doesn’t restrain itself, this list is going to get a whole lot longer.
Starting Monday, this obscure body, which emerges locust-like every 20 years, will begin the final stage of its fleeting lifespan before injecting up to 12 additional proposed constitutional amendments onto the November ballot. When done, it won’t be heard from again until 2038.
The 37 CRC members collected 905 suggestions in more than a year of deliberations. They’ve boiled these down to a dozen proposed amendments, some combining three or four supposedly related ideas. They will now meet in Tallahassee to debate. Any proposal that gets 22 votes automatically appears on the November ballot.
The surviving dozen proposals are not as severely conservative as might have been expected, given that Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican leaders of the House and Senate appointed the bulk of the panel. But neither are they especially compelling — especially after the CRC refused, despite strong public interest, to put an assault-weapons ban up for a vote.
And some look downright harmful. Take Proposal 6003, a mash-up of three notions for K-12 education. On the plus side, it would put a civics requirement, already a state law, into the constitution. But it would also limit the term of school board members and allow the state, as well as local districts, to authorize charter schools. Both those things would seriously encroach upon local control of schools.
Or take Proposal 6002. One of its three provisions would require a super-majority vote of university trustees to raise student fees. Do we really want to handcuff the officials who are supposed to best know the campus’ needs?
Then there are the proposals that really have no business being in the constitution but could just as easily be state laws: put new limits on lobbying; form an Office of Domestic Security and Counter-Terrorism; start every other legislative session in early January; prevent state or local governments from naming a building or monument after a sitting public official; require employers to check on employees’ immigration status; ban indoor vaping; ban greyhound racing.
There’s a crime victims’ rights amendment, which expands on existing protections and will ensure that victims are “reasonably protected from the accused.” Not a bad idea, but as it’s part of Proposal 6001, a yes vote will also mean approving two other, unrelated changes to the judicial system, one of which is incomprehensible to the average person: a requirement that judges weigh cases without deference to administrative agencies’ interpretations of the law. Good luck puzzling that out while standing in the voting booth.
Proposal 6008 would give high-performing school districts the same flexibility as charter schools. Originally proposed by Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, this could be a good way for public schools to innovate with special curriculums. An interesting idea, but who’s even heard of it? And this, too, could be enacted by a state law, rather than sneaking it into the constitution — if we had a Legislature that was focused on the well-being of public schools.
There is one undeniably good idea: Proposal 6009, which would create more open primary elections by closing the “write-in loophole” that candidates and party bosses regularly use to keep a primary closed to independents and members of the other party.
The best thing that the CRC can do this week is to strike down as many of those remaining 12 proposals as possible, and not clog up the November ballot with unnecessary, wrong-headed or indecipherable amendments.
Vote no, commissioners. Early and often.
If the Florida Constitution Revision Commission doesn’t restrain itself, the already lengthy November ballot is going to get a whole lot longer.