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Constitution Review Commission Collects Penacola-Area Comments On Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

A packed Conference Center at the University of West Florida greeted members of the Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday, as part of a process that happens every two decades.

The CRC has been conducting public hearings across Florida, on which proposed constitutional amendments should land on the ballot this November.

“Today’s our fourth stop across the state of Florida on what we call the ‘Road to the Ballot,’” said Commission Chairman Carlos Beruff.

After gaveling the six-hour session to order, with 16 of the 37 commissioners present. Beruff then turned over the gavel to the panel’s lone member from the Panhandle, former state Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville.

“We will hear from everyone who wishes to speak, so we will hold to the two-minute time limit,” said Gaetz.

One of the 37 proposals getting a great deal of attention is Proposal 88, which would set up a Bill of Rights for residents of assisted living and nursing home facilities in Florida. 

“I’m worried that Proposal 88 would have a bad effect on quality care, because it would give attorneys a greater ability to sue nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” said Judy Lightfoot of Pensacola, a volunteer with the American Senior Alliance. “More lawsuits mean more money taken away from those facilities and residents who rely on resources to improve their long-term care services.”

Proposal 54 would prohibit the state from limiting the number of specified health care facilities and services, through the granting of certificates of need (CON). Dr. John Donovan, a physician involved with hospice care for about a decade – wants an exemption for hospice facilities.

“Hospice is one of the few areas of health care that still has an individualized approach; where patient and family are the most important of that care plan,” Donovan said. “Health care has changed over time, as we’re all familiar with; [but] hospice still recognizes the patient as an individual. Removing the CON would take that away.”

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Members of CRC hearing audience hold up cards to express their opinions on proposals; red-disagree, green-agree.

One proposal hitting close to home is P91, which would outlaw drilling for oil and gas off the entire coast of Florida. Marjorie Perkison told the CRC that she doesn’t want to see what’s happened along the Texas coast happen in Florida.

“When we arrived at our [Texas] destination, we look out and saw oil wells in the Gulf; and the whole water, the whole shore was black,” said Perkison.

Proposal 4 would remove the ban against using public revenues in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or any sectarian institution. Rick Branch, Music Minister at First United Methodist Church of Pensacola, spoke in opposition.

“The ‘No Aid’ provision for more than 130 years has insured that our tax dollars have respected the delineation between the church and the state here in Florida,” Branch said. “As a minister at a congregation of more than 3,000 members here in Pensacola, I want to assure you that there is wisdom in keeping the state out the church, and the church out of the state.”

Higher education is also represented in the CRC listings. Proposal 83 would, in a nutshell, specify the purposes of the state college system and add it to the state Constitution. Speaking for 83 was Herb Woll, who’s on the Pensacola State College Board of Trustees.

“Throughout the state, we take our role seriously,” said Woll. “Working not to operationally administer or hamper the work of our educational leaders, but to enhance relationships and to promote the programmatic nimbleness and responsiveness that is the hallmark of Florida’s community and state colleges.”

The final Constitutional Revision Commission hearings are set for March 5 in Cape Coral and March 13 in St. Petersburg. The panel then has until May 10 to finalize the list of proposed amendments. They’ll require 60 percent voter approval.     

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.