Officials prepare to fill Constitution review commission

By Mike Helenthal | Oct 17, 2016

TALLAHASSEE -- Applications for a seat on the Constitution review commission (CRC) are now being accepted by the Florida Supreme Court.

TALLAHASSEE -- Applications for a seat on the Constitution review commission (CRC) are now being accepted by the Florida Supreme Court.

Paul Hawkes, a lobbyist, former legislator and member of the 1998 review commission, told the Florida Record that when he served on the commission, the review process yielded 48 wording proposals and eight different questions that eventually appeared on the ballot.

“Lots of people will encourage them to do nothing,” he told the Florida Record. "But that’s not usually the case. Something will probably come out of it, even if it’s not anything earth-shattering.”

Hawkes said the commission’s 37 appointments must be made by February, with several government officials allowed to make a set number of appointments. The governor has the most with 15, followed by the speaker of the House and Senate president making nine appointments each. The attorney general is automatically a member and the governor appoints the commission’s chair.

“Their only obligation is to review the constitution and hold public hearings,” he said, noting that last time, hearings were held in 12 of the state’s most populous regions. “Nobody wants to shortchange the public hearing process.”

He said many changes are of the housekeeping variety, “cleaning up” language and making sure phrasing is up to date. One of the first orders of business for commission members will be to determine what voting threshold they will use to pass proposed revisions. Last time, he said, the threshold was 22 of 37 votes for items to move on to the ballot.

Hawkes said the process is usually closely watched by municipal officials who have a vested interest in the state’s Constitution, which creates and delineates their duties.

“Local government officials are usually very, very interested,” he said.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga announced last week that he has already started receiving applications for the three selections he is allowed on the commission. So far, applications received by the judge include Jason Johnson, a Panama City attorney and Florida National Guardsman; Joseph M. Matthews, a Coral Gables attorney and business litigator; Tyler Winik, deputy clerk of courts for Brevard County; and Debra Moss Curtis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

“I recognize that my appointments to the CRC are of the utmost importance to the people of this state,” Labarga was quoted as saying in a story on the Florida Politics website. “That’s why I have decided to invite resumes for the three positions so we can draw from the broadest possible pool.”

Labarga said he will accept nominations through Dec. 31 and make his appointments “with the advice of his colleagues on the state’s High Court.”

As for what the voters do after the commission places items on the ballot, Hawkes said driving the outcome is difficult. He said a straightforward ballot initiative stemming from the commission in 1998 was meant to clean up language, and wasn’t expected to be controversial.

“I still can’t figure it out, but the voters didn’t support it,” he said. “It just didn’t get much attention.”

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