Abortion, voting rights dominate constitution revision meeting in Boca


Abortion and the restoration of voting rights to former felons dominated discussion Friday when the state Constitution Revision Commission met in suites above Florida Atlantic University’s football stadium.

The CRC meeting, conducted a day after the commission met at Florida International University in Miami, lasted four hours and drew ordinary citizens as well as elected officials.

All hoped to persuade the sprawling, 37-member commission to amend the state constitution to their liking. Commission members — the attorney general and those appointed by the governor, the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, the Senate president and the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court — listened for four hours as speakers made their case, two minutes at a time.

The commission is formed every 20 years and travels the state to hear from residents. Potential changes to the constitution could be on ballots in 2018.

Some of Friday’s speakers made political arguments with little or no reference to the constitution. Others cited articles and sections they wanted rewritten or upheld.

Speakers ran the gamut from subdued, impassioned and theatrical.

One man, Philip Worman of Lauderhill, held up a vial containing what he said was the remains of an aborted fetus in urging commissioners to push for a change outlawing abortion.

Others, without use of a vial of tissue, argued that a section of the constitution has been stretched from protecting a right to privacy to protecting a right to abortion.

“Here we are, and we’re pretending it’s talking about abortion,” said Beau Heyman of Wellington. “All of us know what privacy means, and all of us know what abortion means. The CRC needs to fix this privacy amendment.”

Arlene Ustin of Delray Beach, speaking on behalf of the Palm Beach County National Organization for Women, disagreed.

“The right to privacy needs to stand for every citizen,” she said.

Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon backed that stand.

“You can’t carve out privacy for what you like and what you don’t like,” she said. “Privacy is about keeping government out of your life.”

Gannon, Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, State Attorney Dave Aronberg and Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock were among the Palm Beach County elected officials who addressed the commission.

Assistant County Administrator Todd Bonlarron also spoke, asking commissioners to “exercise restraint in taking action that would erode home rule.”

Bucher pushed for the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons, arguing that doing so would decrease recidivism.

“We have some of the most egregious laws when it comes to the restoration of voting rights,” Bucher said. “I would like for you to stand up for all citizens of Florida and restore their rights.”

Ustin said she’d like voting rights restored for nonviolent ex-felons, excluding murderers and sexual predators, who have completed their sentences.

“There are 1.68 million persons in this category in Florida, and they virtually cannot get jobs or housing,” Ustin said. “The vast majority of women felons are non-violent.”

Felons in Florida face a lifetime voting ban unless they petition the state Office of Executive Clemency for restoration.

Mary Jane Range, a volunteer for a group called Floridians for a Fair Democracy, said many ex-felons don’t bother to fight for voting rights restoration.

“Many do not even start because the process is very expensive, and they know their chances are very slim,” Range said. “Please consider a proposed amendment to Article 6 Section 4 of the constitution that would automatically restore the voting rights to these men and women of all political parties, genders, ethnicities and ages who have paid their debt to society and deserve a second chance to become full members of their community.”

Bock asked commissioners not to change the constitution in a way that eliminates county constitutional offices.

“The county’s citizens entrust us to keep the integrity of our local government,” she said.

Aronberg had a different request. He asked commissioners to change the constitution to ban the practice of allowing office-seekers to use write-in candidates to close a primary to voters of a particular party.

That’s a strategy often employed by incumbents or other well-known candidates who expect to fare well with a specific slice of the electorate. Candidates also employ the practice when they want a race to be decided in a primary with a smaller turnout versus a general election when more people cast ballots.

“Both sides do this,” Aronberg said. “They put up these phony candidates. Today’s candidates are so brazen about this they file their papers with their write-in candidates in tow.”

Aronberg said he knows he’s asking a lot.

“It’s hard to ask politicians who benefit from the system to change this system,” he said.



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