In February 2017 Florida’s Governor, Chief Justice, Senate President, and House Speaker will separately choose thirty-six of the thirty-seven people who will make up the third Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) for Florida. The thirty-seventh Commissioner is Florida’s Attorney General, the only automatic CRC member. The CRC will do its work of “adopt[ing] its rules of procedure, examin[ing] the constitution of the state, hold[ing] public hearings, and…fil[ing]…its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it” until its constitutionally appointed deadline in May 2018, 180 days before the next regular election. Fla. Const. Art. XI, s. 2. The CRC is powerful: its proposals go directly on the ballot.
Florida is the only state that has regular revisions written into its constitution. The CRCs began meeting ten years after the Constitution was adopted in 1968, and have met every twenty years since, approximately once every generation. Florida’s rapid growth means that each time a CRC meets, the population Florida’s constitution serves has changed substantially. It brings to mind the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ saying that no one steps into the same river twice.
The experiences of the two prior CRCs left lessons that leaders should apply to the next CRC and its planning process. A planning group, advance legislation, and coordinated appointments are three such lessons.
The planning began for the 1977 CRC began with 1966 CRC Chair Chesterfield Smith and District Court of Appeal Judge (and former 1966 CRC member) Thomas Barkdull informally meeting with then-Governor Reubin Askew and leaders from the Senate and House in 1976. Unfortunately, the 1977 CRC’s planning was hamstrung by a glitch in the wording of the Constitution as to when the initial ten-year review would occur. The Florida Supreme Court resolved the issue, but not until February 15, 1977 The decision called for the CRC to commence that spring; not much planning time remained. The 1977 group began with much debate as to procedure; its decision to require a simple majority vote to place proposals on the ballot proved fateful.
The 1997 process grew in sophistication: a June 26, 1996 executive order by Governor Lawton Chiles created a Steering Committee and led to a separate legislative allocation of a small budget to begin the CRC organization. The culmination of these efforts resulted in a detailed proposed CRC budget for the legislature, proposed rules to govern the 1997 CRC, and new laws controlling lobbying contact with CRC members. During the session, public interest caused the CRC to adopt a rule governing conflict-of-interest situations involving CRC members. The lobbying statutes and CRC conflict-of-interest rule expired with the 1997 CRC. And even though the CRC members in 1997-98, strong personalities all, challenged some of the proposed rules, the CRC at least had a strong starting point.
As former CRC members at an October 8 panel held at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and co-sponsored by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service discussed, the 1997 rule requiring a supermajority vote to place a proposal on the ballot may have helped its success. The 1997 CRC, unlike the 1977 and the 2017 CRCs, was not dominated by one political party. Thus, requiring a 60 per cent vote ensured that a proposal had broad bipartisan support and acted as a rough predictor of ballot success.
For 2017, these early organizational steps should be repeated, and indeed, may be happening now without fanfare. The Governor’s Office should be working with representatives from the other appointing authorities and with the Attorney General to plan for the CRC budget, logistics, staff, and rules. An additional consideration is whether to consider whether to pass statutory legislation replacing the former CRC rules on lobbying and conflict of interest.
Appointment of members to the 1977 CRC occurred through informal contact between interested persons and the appointing authorities. There was no organized application process and only informal coordination among the four appointing bodies about their selections of commissioners. Again, the 1997 improved in sophistication and required written applications by the interested candidates. Governor Chiles had prepared a list of nearly 150 applications, summarizing each applicant’s professional background, supporter references, geographical residence and party affiliation. Both the House Speaker and the Senate President likewise required formal applications for candidates. There were greater efforts among the appointing bodies to coordinate appointments, although the process was still informal. Persons appointing for the 1966, 1977, and 1997 CRCs all have said they attempted to appoint not only like-minded individuals, but also representatives that would represent all regions of Florida. As Florida’s diversity continues to increase, there is no reason to believe the next CRC could not be composed of persons who represent not only all regions but also diversity broadly defined, including ethnicity, gender, and means of livelihood, for example.
For the 2017 CRC, the written application process should be repeated with more detailed information that guards against potential conflict of interest. The four appointing bodies should formally caucus to discuss prospective appointments to insure a diverse yet balanced CRC.
Watch this year’s Florida Constitution Revision Panel, co-sponsored by the Center for Governmental Responsibility.
 In re Advisory Opinion of Governor Request of Nov. 19, 1976 (Constitution Revision Commission), 343 So. 2d 17 (Fla. 1977).