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Constitution Revision Commission

On display in Tallahassee: What people want – and don’t want – from constitutional rewrite panel

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

For as many people who asked the Constitution Revision Commission to do something, there were others who wanted the panel to do nothing at all.

And that’s not counting the fringe speakers Wednesday night who told the commission they were “imposters” and “impersonating delegates of the people.”

The 37-member panel, which convenes every 20 years to consider changes to the state’s governing document, held its latest public hearing on Florida A&M University’s campus in Tallahassee.

Kirk Bailey, political director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, asked the panel to refrain from proposing amendments that would restrict the state’s judges.

The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is now pushing legislation to place term limits on appellate judges and Supreme Court justices and to require the Supreme Court to produce an annual case handling report.

“We’ve all heard a lot lately about ‘activist judges’ and we’re anticipating that’s going to be part of a larger narrative about how they ‘overturn the will of the people,’ ” he said later. “Our message is not to succumb to that belief by proposing amendments that will limit the (independence of the) judiciary.”

Matt Jordan, who handles government relations for Tobacco Free Florida, similarly asked commissioners not to change the constitutional provision that provides for funding of the organization’s work.

“We want to make sure they know tobacco prevention is working,” he said in an interview. “Mainly, we just don’t want them to do anything.”

But still others used their two minutes to ask the panel to consider a range of additions to the constitution, some of which were mentioned at previous hearings:

— Opening primary elections to independent voters.

— Allowing ex-cons to automatically regain their voting rights.

— Creating a “bill of rights for children.”

— Requiring employers to verify the citizenship of their workers.

— Creating an independent redistricting commission.

Many speakers held up green cards to show they agreed with an idea; red cards were waved angrily when they disapproved.

Any amendments proposed still have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on the 2018 general election ballot, chair Carlos Beruff reminded the audience.

Several anti-abortion speakers, as had others at previous hearings, also asked the commission to consider a fix to a 1989 state Supreme Court decision that interpreted abortion rights in the constitution’s right-to-privacy provision.

That had longtime Florida National Organization for Women lobbyist Barbara DeVane taking to the microphone. She sat with a group of young women who wore pink “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” T-shirts.

No matter what the commission decided to do, DeVane said, she’d fight for “reproductive rights”—even though she no longer has “any reproductive parts.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at [email protected]

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