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Negron gets support for bill to repeal ballot access of budget and tax commissions

Although the Florida Legislature's latest popularity polls are in the dump, Sen. Joe Negron is pretty convinced that the public wants lawmakers, and not citizen commissions, to fix what's wrong with the state Constitution.

Negron's bill to ask voters to repeal the Constitutional Revision Commission and the Tax and Budget Reform Comission passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. Only Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, voted against it.

Florida's Constitution uniquely allows the two bi-partisan commissions to put changes to the constitution directly onto the election ballot, bypassing the other two entities with access to the ballot, the citizen initiative process and the Florida Legislature. The Constitutional Revision

The framers of Florida's 1968 Constitution included the creation of a Constitutional Revision Committee every 20 years because they wanted a way to update the rigid document without being faced with the political and partisan complexities that would surround the job if given to the Legislature. In 1988, the Democrat-led Legislature created the Tax and Budget Reform Commission, giving it similar ballot access power after lawmakers tried and failed to expand the state's tax base to include services. 

"There's no reason for these two groups to wield that kind of power,'' said Negron, R-Stuart. "We have a revision commission. It's called the Florida Legislature.''

The revision commission has met in 1978 and 1998 and another is scheduled for 2018. The tax commission met for the first time in 1997 and then again in 2007 and is not scheduled to reconvene again until 2027. But the commissions, whose members are appointed by the governor, the speaker of the House and and president of the Senate, have not escaped being used for political gain.

Three of the proposed ballot amendments intended for the 2008 ballot by the Tax and Budget Reform Commission were thrown off the ballot in an unanimous ruling of the Florida Supreme Court. Two of the proposals were designed to help Florida's school voucher program withstand legal challenges and the court ruled that the commission had exceeded its authority with the budget proposals.

"I think that the power the change the Constitution should not be delegated to appointees,'' Negron explained. 

Here's how the Collins Center for Public Policy describes the Constitutional Revision Commission:

"Anticipating ever more change, the drafters established a Constitution Revision Commission to review and draft amendments to the Constitution. This new body was tasked with submitting proposals to the state's voters in 1978 and every 20 years thereafter. The provision sought to ensure that the state's laws reflect its economic and social realities. It was first tested in 1978, when the commission considered such changes as including the right to privacy in Florida's Bill of Rights, establishing the right to have an attorney present for witnesses appearing before grand juries, and limiting Cabinet officers' terms. The Commission suggested still more changes in 1998.

"But amendments may be brought before the voters by other means, including ballot initiatives and legislative proposals.

"Seven of the nine amendments proposed for 2008 were the work of the Florida Tax and Budget Reform Commission, which meets every 20 years, one decade away from the Constitution Revision Commission.

While revisions should not be made lightly, they allow for a dynamic Constitution to serve a state that is grappling with 21st century change. The population, projected to grow to 17 million by 2010, is one guarantee that change will indeed occur."