Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday May 22nd 2019


Considering Constitutional Changes

By Jeremy Morrison

Once in a generation—every 20 years—Florida takes a look at the state constitution, to see if it might need changing. It’s happened three times now.

This process is accomplished by convening the Constitution Revision Commission, which travels the state taking the pulse of its population. Through a series of public hearings held in all parts of Florida, commissioners on the CRC get a feel for how people view various proposals that are being considered. At the end of that process — which wraps by the middle of March—commissioners decide what proposals to place on November’s ballot, where they still require 60 percent of the vote to make it into the constitution.

The commission recently hosted a public hearing at the University of West Florida. For hours commissioners listened as hundreds of people weighed in on proposals being considered for the constitution.

Proposals under consideration run the gamut. There’s one that concerns term limits for public officials, and another that deals with taxation, and another that addresses the legislature’s session. There’s one that concerns a bill of rights for nursing home residents. One that tackles open-vs.-closed primary elections.  And one that deals with death benefits for survivors of first responders or members of the military. And so on.

Former State Senator Don Gaetz, who sits on the CRC as a commissioner, described the Feb. 27 hearing in Pensacola as “typical” of those held throughout the state. People —both grassroots and official, in the form of elected officials and lobbyists—made passionate arguments both for and against proposals before the commission. They also spoke on issues not before CRC, like medical marijuana. Or issues that already had secured a place on the ballot via petition signatures, such as the restoration of voting rights to people convicted of a crime.

And like every meeting held over the past year, there was a lot of talk about greyhound racing, which Proposal 67 would prohibit.

“The breeders and the kennel owners tend to follow along with us,” said Gaetz, who is a co-sponsor of the proposal. “So, we see a lot of familiar faces, probably for the ninth or tenth time on that issue.”

This repeat-customer aspect isn’t unique to the issue of greyhound racing. Gaetz mentions that the commission also hears from an organized, well-traveled contingent when it comes to other issues, such as a proposal dealing with E-verify.

“Nothing wrong with that,” he said. “It’s not unusual. It’s not unethical. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

Also, a popular topic during the Pensacola meeting was offshore oil and gas drilling. Proposition 91, which Gaetz also co-sponsored, would codify a drilling ban into the state’s constitution.

“It’s important for the state of Florida to take an unchallengeable stand,” Gaetz said, citing “an on-again-off-again threat” at the federal level where drilling off of Florida is concerned.

Multiple speakers at the Pensacola meeting agreed, voicing their support for the proposal. They needed to point no further than a few years in the past and the 2010 oil spill for an example of the dangers associated with drilling.

“Florida can’t afford that,” Carol Tebay told the commission. “Our economy can’t afford that and neither can our environment.”

Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson also spoke to the CRC in support of Prop 91. It was one of several, including one concerning the governance of state colleges that the commissioner touched on. A collection of them concerned local autonomy, or the freedom for local governments to act without dictation from the state on matters like the selection of local officials (Proposal 13).

“One size simply does not fit all when it comes to Florida,” Robinson said.

Also, during the Pensacola engagement, a representative from the American Cancer Society spoke about Proposal 65, which addresses smoke and vapor-free workplaces; Chief Judge Linda Nobles, First Judicial Court, addressed Proposal 26, dealing with courthouse security; and Malcolm Thomas and Joseph Taylor, superintendents of the school systems in Escambia and Washington counties respectively, both hit Proposal 33, which would change their positions from that of an elected official to one of appointment.

“Why would something need to go in the constitution when it can be handled statutorily locally,” Taylor said, speaking in opposition to the proposal.

One proposal that did not get much attention at the local hearing was Proposal 39, for which Gaetz is the chief sponsor. The proposal deals with ethics and would limit an elected official’s ability to serve as a paid lobbyist either consecutively as an official or thereafter.

“We have cases in Florida where elected officials at the state level are registered lobbyists at another level,” Gaetz said, adding that the practice occurs on the local level as well. “I find that to be unethical and extraordinarily awkward.”

Following the commission’s Pensacola meeting, the hearings move south, to Cape Coral and St. Petersburg before wrapping up. From there, the CRC heads to Tallahassee to make their final decisions on the 37 proposals under consideration. The constitutional proposals selected by the CRC will appear on the ballot, where they’ll require that 60 percent voter approval to pass.

To learn about the specific proposals under consideration, or to log a comment concerning a proposal, visit the CRC’s website at