Florida Amendment 2 on the November 2022 ballot would revise the Florida State Constitution to take out the section requiring and governing the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years to consider and propose ballot initiatives to amend the state constitution. This would eliminate one formal means of putting on the ballot initiatives to change the state constitution, but a number of other ways to get initiatives on the ballot would remain.
We could find no estimates of the cost of conducting the Constitution Revision Commission. Its members are not paid, and it only meets every 20 years, so the fiscal impact of Amendment 2 on Florida taxpayers would be very small.
State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R) led the effort in the Florida legislature to put Amendment 2 on the ballot. Brandes has argued that both major political parties detest the Constitution Revision Commission, in part, because its members are appointed, not elected. Thus, they are not accountable to the voters. He tweeted “It’s rediscovered every 20yrs, has no rules, players have no experience, once it starts it can’t stop, crazy things pop out, and you never know how damaging they will be. Election night, you yell ‘Jumanji.’”
Brandes and other CRC critics say that citizens can amend the constitution with proposals from the legislature, citizen initiatives, a constitutional convention, and via the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. They do not also need the CRC as a fifth mechanism, they say.
Perhaps the single biggest criticism of the CRC is that many of the measures it proposes are things that should be legislative changes in law, not enshrined in the state constitution. Over the years, the fact that Florida citizens can only vote on ballot initiatives that change the constitution and do not have the option to change the law by initiative, as in other states, means the constitution is full of “issues of the day” rather than timeless rights and rules for the state.
The Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board has pointed out that decades of corruption led the U.S. Supreme Court to force a new state constitution for Florida and that the CRC was included in it “to protect Florida from ever being paralyzed again by the self-interests of an entrenched political empire.”
In that same spirit, the League of Women Voters of Florida opposes Amendment 2 because:
“The Citizen Initiative process for amending the Constitution has already been significantly restricted by the state Legislature in recent years. Eliminating the Constitution Revision Commission will remove a generational opportunity for citizens to update their constitution. The League opposes any limits on citizens’ abilities to be architects of their own Florida Constitution.”
New College of Florida Professor Frank Alcock told us:
“The CRC is a mechanism that was intentionally built into our current state constitution during its formation in the 1960s. It’s unique among state constitutions and it reflects two important values of its designers: (1) the ability to adapt the constitution to changing times; (2) robust input and final approval of amendments on the part of the citizens of Florida. Like any institutional innovation, however, it can be exploited or used by those that control it. The CRC is what we make of it.”
State Sen. Darryl Rouson (D) served on the 2018 CRC and says:
“The CRC may not be perfect, but as lawmakers, we should work to improve it rather than scrap it. Abolishing the CRC along with other efforts to make it more difficult and more expensive to circulate citizens’ petitions to amend the Florida Constitution will make it harder for citizen voices to be heard in shaping the future of their state.”
A 2020 poll by the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University found that 87% of Floridians like having a commission do what the CRC does and provide an alternative to the legislature. About two-thirds of them also supported some changes to the CRC to address the concerns of critics.
Professor Alcock concluded:
“Amendment 2 would abolish the CRC entirely. While this would eliminate the political tactics that annoyed many Floridians this past cycle it would also remove an important feature of our state constitution that was deliberately put there by its designers. And let’s not forget that we have another 15 years before the next cycle that could be used to talk about less drastic reforms.”
The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is a unique Florida institution, a commission that meets every 20 years to consider changes to the state constitution and agree upon ones to put before the voters as ballot measures. It is made up of 37 members. The governor appoints 15 members, the State Senate president appoints nine members, the speaker of the Florida house appoints nine, the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court appoints three, and the attorney general serves on it.
Opponents of the CRC, like Sen. Brandes, argue that this gives the current political establishment too much power to change the constitution. Supporters agree with that, but say that making changes to provide for a more broadly representative set of members to the CRC would be better than abolishing it.
Floridians have been through three rounds of the CRC since the state constitution was created. In 1978, the commission was appointed all by Democrats, and not even one of the measures they put on the ballot was approved by a majority of voters. In 1998, CRC was bipartisan and all but one measure they proposed met with voter approval. In 2018, Republicans appointed all the CRC members and all seven of their proposals that went to the ballot were approved by over 60% of voters.
Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County developer who chaired the 2018 CRC, showed that the central goal of the CRC was to put measures on the ballot that people want. He said:
“The first one wasn’t terribly successful. The second one, I think eight of the nine items they put on the ballot passed, so it was pretty successful. So, we are going to be very careful with the taxpayer’s time and money and only bring forward things that we think will pass that 60% litmus test.”
Indeed, in the 2018 election, voters not only amended the state constitution by approving the CRC’s proposed changes but also got to vote on constitutional changes proposed by the legislature and ones put on the ballot by citizen initiatives.
Discussion about reforming, rather than abolishing, the CRC has been going on for years. Among the organizations and experts engaging in the discussion is the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University, University of Florida Professor Mary Adkins, other legal scholars, and the League of Women Voters.
Some common reforms suggested include:
- Making CRC members more diverse and bipartisan rather than all being appointed by the party in control at the time the commission happens.
- Creating a simple set of rules and procedures for all CRCs in the future so they do not make up their own each time.
- Imposing a single-subject requirement so that the CRC cannot “bundle” different issues into one initiative.
- Apply Florida’s open meetings laws to the CRC.
Another possibility would be to create a citizen legislative initiative process where Floridians could vote on legislative changes, not just changes to the state constitution. Most of the issues people bring to the CRC each time it convenes are legislative issues they are frustrated the legislature has not addressed. Lacking a direct democracy mechanism to change the law, they take the only route they have, addressing the issue via the state constitution. A constitutional amendment to create a citizen legislative initiative process and require the CRC to focus on issues appropriate to address in the constitution would both improve the CRC process and answer many of its critics and give citizens a more appropriate outlet for change.
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