The Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is convened once every 20 years to propose amendments to the Florida Constitution. The amendments that the Commission approves will go directly on the November 2018 ballot. Here is my review of some of the public's suggestions. It would be fair to say that, thus far, the Commission has been stunningly dismissive of the voice of the people. According to the League of Women Voters, only 6 of the public's 2200 proposals were even considered by the Commission. So my expectations going in to yesterday's hearing were right down at ground level slithering alongside some snakes and worms.
We arrived very early in order to assure that we would be able to speak. It was first come, first to speak. While waiting in line for the doors to open, I noticed a woman in a bright pink Planned Parenthood shirt. I thought she might be misinformed. Proposal 22, seeking to downgrade privacy protections, had already been tabled. It was no longer up for consideration. A woman's right to abortion was secure under the Florida Constitution's privacy provision. As fate would have it, in a room of 1000 chairs, we ended up sitting next to the woman in the pink Planned Parenthood shirt. Several other Planned Parenthood supporters were sitting next to her. I asked them how the CRC process could allow proposals that had been tabled to move forward. After a quick search, we found the fourteen page document that outlines the rules of the 2017-2108 Florida CRC. Proposals could be made, debated, amended, postponed, reconsidered, withdrawn, tabled, approved, and so on. But in the end, there did not seem to be anything in the Rules Document to prohibit the full Commission from voting on a tabled proposal that had previously been voted down in committee. Upon first glance, their concerns seemed legitimate.
To recap, the hearing hadn't even started and I had learned that the rules of the CRC might permit proposals to be put to a vote by the full Commission, even if they had been rejected in committee and/or entirely replaced with new language. In other words, anything could end up on the ballot. This was highly unsettling.
Another hour of speakers went by. Finally they called my name. I asked the Commission to approve Proposal 91 that would ban coastal oil and gas drilling within the territorial waters of Florida. There were lots of green cards in support. I sat down, and Barbara, another of my fellow Sarasotans, approached the microphone to ask the Commission to deny Proposal 4, an attempt to allow state funding of religion and religious institutions. Go Barbara! Lots of green cards. Carol would have to wait through another 50 speakers to get her turn to speak. That would be another two hours. We decided this would be a good time to grab lunch.
Proposal 67, about three dozen green cards went up in the crowd. The impassioned participants spoke of the drug doping that had been measured in dogs. Of dogs that raced with a broken leg. Of the dogs' confinement in small cages. Others spoke of diminishing revenues. When we returned from lunch, the opposition contingent had piled in and were sitting and standing at the back of the room. When one of the many people who derived their livelihoods from greyhound racing took the microphone a couple dozen of them would raise their Truth signs.
Finally, the Commission was calling the Parkland families up to the microphone. They consistently called on the Commission to approve the amendment to Proposal 3 that included a ban on assault style weapons, bump stocks, and large capacity magazines. They wanted to raise the minimum age for gun ownership to 21. And they wanted to increase the waiting period for buying guns from 3 days to 10 days. By this time I had found the various amendments that had been submitted for Proposal 3. The Parkland families were advocating for the most recent one. This amendment had been introduced on the very morning of the hearing. This was breaking news. And as far as I could tell, there were no rules prohibiting such a last minute change to an entire proposal. Ordinarily I would criticize such a loosey-goosey scheme. It could potentially be very corrupt, non-transparent, and non-responsive to the public. But in this case, the system responded to the very real and strong public pressure for stronger gun regulation. I did not witness any Commissioners respond to members of the public, but evidently while we were out, Commissioner Frank Kruppenbacher rose and addressed the residents of Parkland who were in attendance. He said "In my heart I know the majority of this commission stands with you, and we will do what’s right."
After another hour of speakers, the Commission called on Carol. She spoke against those proposals that would be bad for Florida's public schools. And she spoke in favor of the amendment to ban assault weapons. When she was done, there were still 200 people waiting to speak, but it was time for us to make our way home. The hearing had started at 1pm and it ended at 11:30pm. The Commission listened to some 10 hours of public comments during this one hearing alone. All told, 430 people addressed the Commission. That represents an awesome outpouring of in-person citizen feedback.
|2017-2018 Florida CRC Commissioners, Source|
My divination abilities are not well-honed. Will 60% of the full Commission vote to put a constitutional ballot amendment banning assault weapons on the ballot? If so, would 60% of Florida voters vote in favor? Will the National Rifle Association (NRA) swoop in with PR finesse and strong financial backing to sway these votes? For all I know, yesterday's CRC hearing might have been an historic turning point, where we start to see passage of common sense gun reform. Who am I to know? In order to keep a shred of hope, I leave it to others to explore how much direct and indirect funding each CRC Commissioner has already received from the NRA. But I am hopeful. So many citizens came out to make their voices heard, and by and large, I agreed with many of them.
Update: On March 21, a Commissioner raised a point of order that the gun reform introduced as an amendment to Proposal 3 was not relevant to Proposal 3 and should not be introduced. The Chair ruled the amendment out of order. Consequently, the full Commission will not have a chance to vote on an assault weapons ban.
3/13/18 Constitution Revision Commission – St. Petersburg – Video Part 1
3/13/18 Constitution Revision Commission – St. Petersburg – Video Part 2