League of Women Voters of Florida questions Constitutional Revision Commission

League of Women Voters of Florida logo from their facebook page

The group that forms every twenty years to suggest changes to Florida’s constitution is meeting again Wednesday in Tallahassee; but the Constitutional Revision Commission is being faced with questions about process and rules.

The president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, Pamela Goodman, has written a letter to the chair of the CDC, Carlos Beruff addressing some concerns.

“The Constitution Revision Commission is a commission made up of 37 appointed members and it’s very unique, it meets once every 20 years. This is only the 3rd time it’s meeting. It met in 1978, 1998 and then now. They just got their appointments the beginning of March. They were appointed by the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Pam Bondi serves on appointing herself from the Attorney General’s office.

“The appointments were made at the beginning of this year’s legislative session. Typically, while the last Constitution Revision Commission they began with public hearings around the state, but, they didn’t begin those meetings until June 20th, even though like now, the members had been appointed during legislative session in the spring. But, they took some time to kind of get administrative things in order, before they began taking it out on the road to get public input. All of this is for the end result for them having the ability to put amendments on our ballot in November of 2018 that can change our Florida Constitution. So, it’s a very powerful group and they can really put forth a lot of amendments towards the voters that can deal across the great sundry of different issues. That’s the purpose of the public hearings is to get input from the public on what the public would like to see potentially addressed in an amendment to our Florida Constitution.

“So, this group, who the commission chair was appointed: Chairman Beruff and his commissioners began really immediately going out on the road with public hearings. Rules had not been adopted; rules for how this commission will operate. Really the scheduling and the processes of how this commission will operate had only been discussed at their initial meeting on March 20th. There were draft rules that were put out there, but, they were not voted on and adopted. So, they proceeded, though, to go ahead to public hearings in Orlando, which had enormous turnout from citizens, on down to Miami last week and Palm Beach county last week and they’ll be in Tallahassee for a 4th public hearing. But, all of this is being done without any rules or processes established or in place.

“The public, we’re kind of operating in a complete black hole. We don’t know is this our only chance that we’re going to have to address them? Will there be another bite at the apple? What will the schedule be? And what are the rules? What are the rules for submission of ideas? Is there a deadline? And what are some of the internal workings for them? Is it working in committee? Will final decisions be made in committee? In the draft rules, Chairman Beruff gave himself an immense amount of power. And of course, we want to make sure, most importantly, that all of this is done in the most transparent way possible, under the Rules of Sunshine, that govern our state.”

And on that note of Sunshine, it’s possible that some of the members, unlike for example, someone in the legislature, the members of the CRC might be able to meet together in secret.

“That is one of the issues that we talked about. Yesterday, we did send a letter–The League of Women Voters sent one letter to the chairman and the commissioners that just really outlines our concerns and asks them really quite a few pretty detailed questions that tied back to the draft rules that are in place, concerning those draft rules and one of them is that, about meetings.

“Also [it appears] in the draft rules that they can attend meetings through electronic means, which would mean teleconference or telephone. We are saying, you know, this is such a very special group, shouldn’t it perhaps be better that meetings only be held in person. These are very special people and their job will be finished by the time October/November of 2018 rolls around, but, also that proposed rules 20-years ago, they required that committee meetings be scheduled so that members don’t have conflicts with other committees that they are assigned to. There are quite a few legislators that are serving on this commission and they’ve got problems that are conflicting with scheduling problems with this.

“It also gives the committee chair the discretion to excuse members from meetings without any requirement that the absence is necessarily for a good reason. He also gives himself the power to allow committees to kill proposals. 20-years ago, the CRC only made recommendations to the full CRC and then the full CRC voted on them and we’re curious why did they make that change and we were suggesting wouldn’t it be better for the full commission to make those types of decisions.

“But, when you talk about the Sunshine, one change that we are particularly concerned with: the draft rules just change sometimes it’s in the wording, they changed the requirement that records, public records, be open to requiring that the commission records be “accessible.” So, we don’t really know what “accessible” means and we don’t know why they just wouldn’t use the word “open.” Why wouldn’t their records be open to the public, not just accessible. Why did they change the wording? That’s the word that is used most often when we talk about Sunshine and why not just follow the Attorney General’s manual on open government, which is readily available and which most people do follow.”

In your letter to Chairman Beruff, you write: “The draft rules appear to give the Chairman the right to stop the distribution of literature in the public areas of the Capital like hallways and galleries.” What’s that about?

“It does. It’s kind of our question. We found that curious. Why couldn’t, in Sunshine and transparency, why couldn’t there be communication–something handed out to the public–coming from them vs. all the other information going one way from us to them.”

Have you gotten a response from Chairman Beruff yet?

“We have not. This letter went to him and all of you–all of the media–yesterday, so that hopefully you can begin asking some of these questions as well.

“And once again, these are not accusations, these are draft rules. But, we just feel it’s extremely important that these rules get clarified, that some of the questions that we have that are concerning get laid to rest and perhaps get changed before the rules are voted on and adopted.

“We don’t even know when the rules will be adopted. That has not been stated. They have stated now that the rules will be going to a committee, but, they haven’t said who is serving on that committee, when that committee will be meeting and what the deadline of that committee is to have these rules established and if then the full CRC will be the body that will vote on them and establish them.

“So, a lot of questions and a lot of questions that we think need to be clarified and the rules put in place, really before we proceed with any additional public hearings because once again, these public hearings honestly, in listening to them, which I have–all three–the public has just been giving forth, unbelievably informed, passionate, educated, testimony on the issues that they feel are very very important to either them or their organizations and we want to make sure that those voices of the citizens are for nought, that they are heard within a set of processes and rules by this commission and processed in an appropriate way that the public deserves and should be respected of.”

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