Special commission to review Florida Constitution takes shape

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, February 06, 2017

The exclusive panel charged with proposing constitutional amendments to solve Florida's most vexing problems began to take shape Monday, as state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga announced a bipartisan slate of appointees.

  • Florida Constitution Review Commission meets every 20 years
  • Makes amendments that could end up on the ballot in 2018
  • FL Supreme Court chief justice unveiled his appointees

Labarga's selections -- former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, Republican consultant Roberto Martinez and Jacksonville attorney Henry Coxe -- will join 34 other members of the Constitution Revision Commission that will be chosen by Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

The commission is empaneled once every 20 years to draft ballot measures, some of which will appear before Florida voters in 2018.

"I just want people who are familiar with our state, familiar with our system, to go in there and do the best job they can," Labarga said at a news conference.

The commission will undertake its work amid mounting state government dysfunction. The capitol's majority Republicans have allowed the legislative process to break down multiple times in recent years, with stalemates over redistricting and the budget sending legislative sessions into overtime.

Turmoil has racked Gov. Scott's administration, too, as allegations of mismanagement at multiple agencies have prompted resignations and legislative inquiries. Scott's lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, has rarely been seen in public since the governor's narrow re-election victory in 2014.

In light of the developments, calls are mounting for the commission to consider initiatives to eliminate term limits, put redistricting in the hands of an independent commission and altogether retire the office of lieutenant governor.

"I think our dysfunction as a state is pretty dependable and pretty resilient," said Common Cause Florida Vice Chair Brad Ashwell, an advocate for a range of good governance measures.

The commission "is our best shot at addressing a lot of different problems that don't have a chance in the legislature," Ashwell said. "The legislature has so many different influences; politics are always a part of it. This is one chance for the voters to influence the process."

But much of the work the commission produces could depend on its makeup. While reformers are largely hailing Labarga's appointments, Corcoran has voiced contempt for the judicial branch. The Supreme Court has struck down a number of high-profile laws dear to conservatives, prompting speculation that his appointments could be made with an eye to judicial reform.

And some conservative thinkers who could emerge as commissioners have suggested raising the threshold for voter passage of constitutional amendments to 67 percent, from the current 60 percent.

Labarga, for one, told reporters he didn't apply a political litmus test to his appointees.

"You know, there's politics in everything, but I don't think that was the crucial factor," Labarga said. "The crucial factor is people who have, like I mentioned, a wide variety of knowledge about how our system works and an appreciation for it."

Scott, Corcoran and Negron are required to make their appointments to the commission before the start of the 2017 legislative session, on March 7.