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Amending The State Constitution Could Get Tougher

Florida House of Representatives

Some Florida lawmakers say it’s too easy to change the state’s constitution. They want to raise the bar in an effort to keep what they say are policy changes out of document that lays the ground work for Florida’s government.

Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) is behind the bill (SB 0232.)

“This resolution provides that to amend the state constitution, this is recommending an increase in the percentage to a 2/3rds majority, or 66 2/3 percent,” Baxley says.

Right now, in order for a proposed constitutional amendment to pass, 60 percent of voters must agree it’s a good idea. That’s a change from 2006 when only a simple majority was required for an amendment to pass. But Baxley says he still feels it’s too easy to change the state’s foundational document. He says part of that frustration comes from the Constitution Revision Commission—a panel that means once every 20 years and that Baxley says is supposed to make changes to the document’s format and function.

“But no, we turned into a situation where we have a mini unelected legislature just running a bunch of bills on policy and budget,” Baxley says.

But Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-Miami) says lawmakers are already considering bills that would address the revision commission. One measure moving through the legislature would limit the proposals from the body to a single subject while another would abolish the commission completely. He says raising the threshold for an amendment to pass doesn’t address that.

“What would happen if we changed the 3/5ths threshold we have now to 2/3rds it would have a dramatic impact on the 2018 election. The number of ballots that passed were 92 percent. If we increased the threshold to 2/3rds, only a third of the ballot amendments would have passed. I agree we have a problem in terms of the process of amending our constitution. I don’t think the problem is the voter threshold or the voters,” Rodriguez said

But Baxley says that’s okay. He says in his view the constitution isn’t supposed to be filled with policy items.

“I think we at least owe the voters a chance to vote on this and say ‘I’m fine at 60 percent,’ or ‘no I would like to have a higher bar so many things that I do care about but don’t belong on the constitution would not be in the constitution but would be in statute and I could lobby for it there,” Baxley says.

Meanwhile in the House a similar bill is moving forward. Rep. Rick Roth (R-Palm Beach) is behind that bill. He says it’s the job of lawmakers to protect the constitution and Rep. Mike Beltran (R-Lithia) says without the checks and balances built into the lawmaking process, voters can sometimes make mistakes.

“What we have not is we have on one day 60 percent of the voters who don’t necessarily revive all the best information on these amendments in fact they’re heavily lobbied by these political mailers and don’t necessarily have the resources to research beyond that can alter this structural document that protects our liberties and provides the structure of our government.”

If the bills pass in both chambers the proposal would then go before voters—this time just 60 percent would have to approve.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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