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Does the Constitution Revision Commission lift or limit voters' voices?

Florida's Historic Capital building glows orange at night. The new Capital building rises behind it as the sunset fades.
Erich Martin
Used with permission
Florida lawmakers put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission.

This election cycle, voters will decide whether to get rid of the Constitution Revision Commission. The appointed panel meets once every 20 years and can send proposed amendments directly to the ballot for voter consideration. Opponents argue abolishing the body would mean Floridians would have less say over the document that governs their state, but supporters say keeping the commission in place limits voters’ voices.

Amendment Two asks voters whether to keep or abolish the Constitution Revision Commission

The last time the Constitution Revision Commission met was in 2018. The panel sent eight proposed amendments to the ballot and raised the ire of many sitting lawmakers.

Lawmakers were frustrated when the commission “bundled” amendments, giving voters a yes or no option on seemingly divergent issues like indoor vaping and offshore drilling.

But Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg)
says that’s not the only problem with the commission.

"Honestly, you ever watch the movie Jumanji? The Constitution Revision Commission is essentially a version of Jumanji where you don’t have any rules, you don’t know who the players are gonna be, you dont know what’s gonna pop out of it," Brandes says.

Brandes is behind the push to abolish the CRC. He ushered proposed Amendment Two through the Senate. He says proposals from the CRC could be good, or they could bad and he questions whether that's worth the risk.

"My argument is don’t risk it, don’t have a CRC, and [instead] let the constitution be revised in a way that allows for debate and discussion—amendments through either the legislative process or through a petition process as put forth by the people," Brandes says.

Brandes says letting an appointed, rather than elected, body put proposed amendments directly on the ballot routes around the legislature and limits the voices of Floridians.

"The general consensus among both the House and the Senate, and the Republicans and Democrats was that this is an entity that doesn’t need to exist," Brandes says. "That changing the foundational document by which we write all laws should be either done by elected individuals or by the people of the state.”

But Cecile Scoon, President of the Florida League of Women Voters, says the proposed amendment will limit citizens’ access to direct democracy.

"I think that’s one of those wonderful things that Floridians enjoy is we have different pathways to direct democracy," Scoon says.

Brandes argues citizens can still be engaged without the CRC through petitioning and lobbying efforts.

“Considering that it only happens every 20 years, I would argue that it doesn’t limit almost anything. They still have access through petitions, they still have access through their legislators," Brandes says.

There are five avenues for putting proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot in Florida. The most common are joint resolutions—which are proposals passed through the legislature by lawmakers, and citizens initiatives—which are brought forward by collecting enough signatures to get the proposal on the ballot. In recent years, lawmakers have put more rules in place that make getting citizens initiatives on the ballot more difficult. And that’s one reason some are concerned about getting rid of the CRC. Scoon says abolishing the Constitution Revision Commission would make it that much harder for everyday people to bring about change.

“I think the Constitution Revision Commission is another way to let additional issues be brought forward of importance that, if the legislators are refusing to listen, there’s another way to hear that voice.”

Voters heading to the polls will find the question about whether to abolish the CRC listed as Amendment Two. Voting yes is a vote to get rid of the body. Voting no is a vote to keep the Constitution Revision Commission in place. To pass, the proposal needs to get approval from at least 60 percent of the people who cast votes this November.

Casey Chapter is a graduate student at Florida State University studying Public Interest Media & Communication. She got her start in journalism at the FSView & Florida Flambeau, where she served as a reporter, News Editor, and eventually Managing Editor. She has previously reported on COVID-19 and K-12 education for the Tallahassee Democrat, and currently serves as the Managing Editor of the Florida Student News Watch, a journalism program that aims to get students and recent graduates' work published with a focus on environmental reporting.