Every 20 years, 37 Floridians from all walks of life have a chance to make history. That chance is coming up within a few months and there are still some openings on the panel.
Florida’s very first commission to revise the state’s constitution met in 1977 and 1978. The group adopted 8 proposals. None of them were approved by voters. The next commission, which met in 1997 and 1998, tried to figure out why its predecessor had essentially batted zero.
“They looked at the earlier one in the 70s and they said they didn’t do enough marketing. People really didn’t know what was going on and so after they had their recommendations, they went back out again – the commission did – and so some people think that’s the reason it was more successful.”
That’s Carol Weissert. She’s in charge of the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University and is also trying to get the word out about the third Constitutional Revision Commission that will meet starting in early 2017. By the way, after its publicity push, the second commission got seven of its eight proposals adopted by voters. What kinds of issues might commission number three tackle?
“There’ll be some judicial recommendations. One of the ones I’ve heard is term limits for the state judiciary. Which some people really support and some people are very much against.”
Weissert hopes the group will also tackle some more fundamental matters as well.
“Either think about an open primary or a top-two primary system to engage more people in the process,” she speculated. “I’d like to see them do something on the statutory initiative. We’re the only state in the country that has the constitutional initiative but not the statutory one. And that would prevent things like pigs from being in the constitution. You could put it in statute. And frankly a lot of things in the constitution that have been put in there by the initiative process might be better off in statute.”
When will the commission hold its first meeting? Weissert said even that has been the topic of some debate.
“The constitution says within 30 days of the convening of the legislature. But we’re not sure whether that means 30 days before or within the 30 days before. There’s some ambiguity. And the governor has chosen to think it’s the second, because he’s saying he’s going to make his appointments on March 6th so it’ll be right before the legislature convenes.”
Speaking of commission appointments, the governor gets to make 15 of them. The speaker of the House and Senate president get 9 each and the chief justice of the Supreme Court gets to make 3. Weissert said some pretty well-known folks have already put their names in the hopper for consideration
. “There are like 100 people for the governor and maybe 30-something for the chief justice. It’s a mixture of people and kind of fun…Arthenia Joyner applied, Matt Gaetz applied, Bill McCollum applied, so you have people you’ve known from the past. And then there are other people; Curt Browning a very well-known name around here, Bob McClure from the James Madison Institute. And then there are people from non-profit groups and others that are putting their names forward.”
But Weissert insisted commission members don’t have to be famous or high-powered policy wonks to do a good job.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people in the 97/98 commission and what they say is one of the best members was an architect and he didn’t have any background in policy or political science, but he was a very good listener and he was very smart and he was able to make contributions to the discussion. So you do have these people that are big policy wonks and they point to an architect with no policy experience as being one of the key people.”
Weissert said there’s still time to apply for a seat on the commission.
“It’s pretty easy…the governor and the Senate president and the chief justice all have applications on their web page. And then our Revise Florida group – www.reviseflorida.com – has all three links, so you can go to our site and get all three links.”
Just know in advance, Weissert cautioned, there is a pretty serious time commitment.
“(It’s) most of the time for a year,” she explained. “There’s some time off, but they do hearings across the state initially and they meet a lot in Tallahassee and then they do hearings again and so it’s a big time commitment, but I think it’s a very important contribution to the state.”
Not to mention a chance to literally define or even redefine some of the fundamental principles of state government for possibly all time.