State Constitution Revision Commission sworn in, set to begin hearings

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017, 8:24 PM EDT

The powerful panel charged with proposing ballot amendments aimed at tackling Florida's most pressing problems was sworn in Monday, with its chairman pledging that each member will have an equal voice during the 14-month process.

  • Constitution Revision Commission formed once every 20 years
  • Commission crafts ballot amendments that will appear before voters in 2018
  • Chairman appointed by Gov. Scott source of controversy

The promise by Constitution Revision Commission Chairman Carlos Beruff was noteworthy given the vortex of controversy that has followed his appointment by Gov. Rick Scott. A billionaire real estate developer, Beruff has been a steadfast ally of the governor. He even hired many of Scott's aides to help run his unsuccessful 2016 U.S. Senate campaign.

As Scott eyes a Senate campaign of his own in 2018, critics have charged that Beruff represents a politically advantageous choice for the governor, whose prospects could rest on conservative turnout. If the commission votes to place one or more social issues on the 2018 ballot, their "red meat" appeal among many Republicans could benefit Scott.

"As chair, I'm interested in creating an environment in which issues can be openly debated on their merits," Beruff told the commission's 37 members during remarks at the Capitol. "Every member of the CRC will have the opportunity to be heard and have the chance to fight for the issues they believe are important to this state."

Those issues appear to run the gamut. Progressives have called for amendments to provide for the automatic restoration of felon voting rights, and prevent the state from denying funding to women's health organizations. Conservatives are advocating measures to expand gun rights, and make it more difficult for future ballot amendments to pass by raising the voter approval threshold to 67 percent, from the current 60 percent.

In addition, commission members of all stripes have discussed interest in loosening or eliminating legislative term limits and creating an independent commission to handle redistricting.

Depending which amendments the commission approves, the makeup of the 2018 electorate could look markedly different from previous midterm cycles. That possibility could be particularly consequential, since all of Florida's statewide offices will be on the ballot.

"Either issue could turn out both progressives and conservatives, on all those issues, so we could just have one hell of a turnout in 2018," predicted Arthenia Joyner, a former Democratic lawmaker from Tampa who was appointed to the commission by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.

Now officially empaneled, the commission will begin holding public hearings around the state. Any amendments it chooses to put on the 2018 ballot must be submitted to the Florida Department of State by May 2018.