Every 20 years, Florida voters face more ballot initiatives than normal thanks to the Constitution Revision Commission.
This non-elected panel of 37 people are appointed by members of the state leadership.
They hear suggestions for amendments from the public across the state of Florida. At the end of these hearings and debate, they recommend a series of initiatives that automatically make it onto the November ballot. The most recent commission met in 2018.
Florida is the only state to have this option for constitutional amendments. In 1968, the idea for the CRC was added to Florida’s Constitution.
Jon Mills is a law professor at the UF Levin College of Law and former speaker of the Florida state house. But in 1998, he served on the CRC. He was appointed by then Democratic Florida Governor Lawton Chiles.
“(It) was an opportunity for a non-elected citizens group to take a fresh look at the constitution every 20 years,” Mills said.
Most amendments make it on the ballot via legislative referral or a citizen’s initiative. Janice Gilley, associate vice president of external affairs at the University of West Florida, has experience working in the Governor’s office and the State Legislature. She says the CRC is an option for amendments that can’t make it through the traditional pathways. If an amendment failed to get to the ballot via legislative or citizen’s initiative, the CRC is a way to put it in front of the public.
The 2018 commission has had difficulties with their recommended amendments ahead of the vote in November. Of the eight initiatives proposed in the final report, only four will definitely be on the ballot. Amendments seven, nine, and eleven face challenges in lower courts. Amendment eight was officially removed by Florida’s Supreme Court for having a description that did not make the actual intention and effect of the amendment clear to voters.
The ballot initiatives from the 2018 commission are also under scrutiny for bundling.
Elizabeth King is the president of the Pensacola Bay Area League of Women Voters and explained how the CRC amendments differ from the other initiatives on November’s ballot.
“It means putting things together that are not necessarily related,” King said. “While the other two ways to get things on the ballot this year, by law, must be on one single issue.”
King recounts a presentation she recently gave on the CRC amendments. She says many people like one section of the amendment but not the other. Her advice is to choose which part is more important to the voter and let that guide their decision.
Former State senator Don Gaetz spoke to WUWF earlier this year. He served on the 2018 CRC and said they reviewed over 100 separate initiatives and proposals. Gaetz said if they hadn’t bundled, they wouldn’t be able to include many amendments because it would have made the ballot too long and confusing for voters.
But Jon Mills says there is a fine line when bundling ballot initiatives. During the 1998 CRC, the panel did sort multiple initiatives together, but they had to meet a standard.
“We did sort multiple proposals together, but they were very closely aligned topics,” Mills said.
If the three challenged amendments from the 2018 commission get struck down by the state supreme court, then there will be a sign at polling places notifying voters.
When preparing for these bundled amendments, Mills says to take some time to read through each initiative and make a pros and cons list. Voters should make sure Election Day isn’t the first time they read these amendment proposals.
For an amendment to pass, it has to receive 60 percent of the vote. Before 2006, amendments only needed to receive a simple majority.