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Amid power struggle, Constitution Revision Commission proposes amendments to rules

CRC Miami listeningMembers of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission next week will take up a series of amendments to the rules of the powerful panel that would reduce the ability of chair Carlos Beruff to control what makes it to the November ballot and instead elevate the role of individual members. 

Beruff, who was appointed to lead the 37-member panel by Gov. Rick Scott, has proposed a series of rules for the group to follow as it decides what constitutional amendments to put on the November 2018 ballot. But his proposal has faced stiff pushback from the other members of the commission, particularly the 21 members appointed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga

To address the dispute, Beruff appointed a working group to review the rules and to make recommendations. Then, last week, he rejected their work and instead called a meeting of the commission for June 6 in Orlando to get the full commission to vote on the rules.

He set a deadline of noon on Thursday to propose amendments. Six amendments were filed to change Beruff's proposals and each is intended to weaken elements of Beruff's proposal that gives him control over what amendments can be voted on by the full panel, or require the panel to adhere to the state's open meeting and open records laws. They are: 

  • Commissioner Roberto Martinez proposes replacing Beruff's proposal to allow two members of the commission to meet in secret to discuss business and instead apply s. 286.011 and ch. 119, Florida Statutes which requires that all meetings of two or more members to be open and accessible to the public.
  • Commissioners Tom Lee and Don Gaetz, both former Senate presidents, propose replacing Beruff's proposed rules with those adopted by the 1997-98 commission. 
  • Commissioner Sherry Plymale, who was appointed by Negron, proposes removing a provision that would allow Beruff at add members to standing committees but adds a new provision to allow the chair to create a select committee at any time with "the jurisdiction, authority, and powers and duties assigned to it by the Commission Chair and exists for the period of time specified by the Commission Chair."
  • Plymale also proposes requiring the Rules and Administration Committee to schedule standing committee meetings in a way in which they do no conflict with each other and to allow it to meet by phone or video conference for "administrative matters."
  • Another amendment proposed by Plymale would do away with a proposal sought by Beruff that would allow him to send a proposal back to a committee after it has been amended in another committee — a tool used to effectively kill proposals. Instead, she proposes to empower individual commissioners by allowing them to move to remove a proposal from any committee and have it placed on the calendar, essentially allowing the majority of the commission to control what ideas come up for a vote.

Several members have privately said they are concerned that Beruff is attempting to control what gets on the ballot because the governor, who appointed Beruff, is also hoping to be on the ballot in November 2018 as a candidate for U.S. Senate.

Lee told the Herald/Times that replacing Beruff's rules with the rules adopted by the CRC 20 years ago was "the best to way to create a starting point." He said the rules in 1997-98 were "adopted by a bi-partisan commission, with a chair appointed by a Democratic governor [Dexter Douglass] who, politics aside, was a sharp and accomplished public servant."  

Gaetz said he wants changes to strengthen the credibility of the commission. 

"There are substantial issues that go into the credibility of constitutional revision,'' he said. "Will the public's proposals be heard? Will proposals that are sponsored by commission members have a chance to be debated and voted up or down? Who will control what comes to the floor?

""If people don't have confidence in the way you're doing something, they're going to have a whole lot less confidence in what you produce,'' Gaetz said. 

He added that he hopes that commission members consider themselves independent and not expected to act as surrogates for the officials who appointed them.

For example, Gaetz said, the commission should not mirror the disputes between the governor and Legislature in the wake of the fractious legislative session. The governor is expected to veto large portions of the education budget, thereby forcing lawmakers back into a special session later this month.

"I hope no commissioner feels they are creatures of the appointing authority,'' Gaetz said. "We don't want the CRC to be another venue for the ongoing tension between the governor and the Legislature....We're not in the Legislature...This is once in a generation and we shouldn't be thinking about who did what to whom in the Legislature."

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