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Constitution commission proposes key changes to rules that steer more power to Carlos Beruff

Carlos Beruff Miami HeraldFlorida's unique quest to update its state Constitution begins today as the 37-member commission meets for an organizational session the Florida Senate chambers.

The group, dominated by Republicans, will meet briefly for two hours, review its proposed rules and go over the state's ethics and Sunshine laws.

The draft rules, however, are already stoking some debate. They allow Carlos Beruff, the Manatee County businessman who was selected to be chairman of the commission by Gov. Rick Scott, to consolidate his power over the group by giving him sole discretion of what expenses will be reimbursed and to use his committee referrals to kill proposals that have been amended by members.

The commission will be divided into committees and committees will have the power to adopt and amend proposals but there are other significant departures from the rules adopted by the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission, which succeeded in passing 8 of the 9 proposals it put before voters. Many on that commission, which included a bi-partisan blend of members, attribute the carefully-crafted rules of the commission for helping bring consensus and strengthen the proposals that won voter support.

According to draft rules 2.14 and 4.5, Beruff will have the power to refer proposals that have been amended back to committees -- where they can be killed with an unfavorable vote. It will take a two-thirds vote of the full commission to reverse his ruling.

Another change is in rule 1.23, which says that CRC records will be “accessible” to the public and strikes the word "open" from the 1998 rules.  Why the change?  Is “accessible” meant to mean something different than “open?”

What will be the budget and who will pay for it? Will outside groups be allowed to finance campaigns related to the proposals advocated by the commission? Will coordination between outside groups and commission members be reported? Will they be allowed?

There is no indication as to how much money will be allocated to pay for the expenses of commission members but that is being determined by the governor's office, the House speaker and Senate president, said Meredith Beatrice, spokesperson from the commission.

She said the rule regarding reimbursement of commission expenses was rewritten to "enhance clarity. The intent is still the same." 

"The chairman is committed to empowering the commissioners at the committee level so they can do their job," Beatrice said. 

Beatrice said that a process is also being established for lobbyists who attempt to influence the commission to register.

One important rule that has been carried over from 1998 is the requirement that in order for a measure to be put on the November ballot, it must receive a supermajority of 22 votes from commission members.

Other changes include allowing members to attend meetings via teleconference, giving Beruff the power to determine if amendments offered by members to change proposals are germane. Rules can be waived by two-thirds vote of those present and voting -- which includes people present only by teleconference.

Here are the proposed rules in the committee packet.

Here is the strike-through of the 1998 rules that was used to develop this draft.  Download CRC draft Rules 16 Mar 2017

Photo: Carlo Beruff