TALLAHASSEE, Florida – Interest in serving on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) for the 2017-2018 term is ramping up, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga already has 32 applicants for the 15 members he can choose for the 37-member commission.
Carol S. Weissert, LeRoy Collins Eminent Scholar and professor of political science at Florida State University, said the CRC is one of five options Floridians have to amend the state’s constitution. The CRC is convened every 20 years.
The CRC generally conducts public hearings for citizen input. In the 1997-1998 term, the recommendations of the 2017-2018 commission will go directly to the 2018 ballot.
“It is important because the commission members are tasked with making needed changes in the constitution, subject to ratification by the citizens,” Weissert told the Florida Record. “There are many issues that may not make it through the Legislature or be appealing to groups that often dominate the initiative process that this commission might propose as constitutional amendments.”
Weissert said possible amendments to be considered by the 2017-2018 commission include lengthening legislative term limits to 12 years, providing an open primary and a top-two primary, changing the appointers of the next CRC, term limits for judges, cabinet changes and changing the way Florida’s electoral votes are allocated.
Weissert said each CRC enacts its own rules. She said the new CRC will likely operate through committees, which will initially debate and recommend changes to the full commission.
Attorneys and judges have some advantage in seeking spots on the CRC, Weissert said, because they are accustomed to legislative and legal language. However, in the 1996-1997 CRC, members noted that one of the most influential members was an architect who had little experience with policy or law.
“He was, apparently, a great listener, very fair and committed to the process,” Weissert said.
According to Weissert, the quality of CRC appointments is crucial.
“If the CRC is full of political ‘hacks’ or those with narrow interests, the process will not work,” she said. “It depends on having members who come in without commitments to specific issues or interests and who are committed to making the state better with quality amendments.”
Florida’s first CRC in 1976-1977 recommended eight amendments but none was voted on by the public, in part, according to Weissert, because “the commission didn’t do a very good job educating the public on their process or product.”
Weissert said the second CRC in 1996-1997 was more successful, as eight of nine proposals were enacted.
One major difference the 2017-2018 commission will face compared to the first two is that ratification now needs 60 percent of the vote.
“This is difficult to get,” Weissert said. “The CRC will have to do a good marketing and educational effort explaining what they are doing and why the results are important for the future of the state.”
Gov. Rick Scott will appoint 15 of the 2017-2018 CRC members, while the state’s House speaker and Senate president will each select nine members. Attorney General Pam Bondi will also serve on the commission.