First appointments made to Constitution Revision Commission

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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service
February 6, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The most common ways for recommending amendments to the state's constitution are by citizen initiative or by the state legislature. But once every 20 years, an appointed Constitution Revision Commission tackles what citizens or politicians can’t. The first three of 37 appointments were made today.

37 people selected by the state's political and judicial leadership will shape recommendations to change the state’s basic document. Chief Justice Jorge Labarga appointed his three members. They are a Jacksonville lawyer, a former state senator and civil rights activist from Tampa, and a Miami immigration lawyer who was close to Jeb Bush.

The Chief Justice said he asked nothing in return.

“I’m appointing them for their experience and their judgment based on that experience, and their appreciation of the three branches of government,” Labarga says.

The Chief Justice could have appointed himself, but did not. He’s got just one thing on his wish list.

“If I had to ask for an ask, it would be the preservation of an independent judiciary to render decisions,” LaBarga says.

This past November, nearly half of the state legislature was elected in a closed primary. The 1998 revision commission sought to fix that, but a loophole has kept Democrats from voting for Republicans and vice versa.

FSU Political Scientist Carol Weissert says fixing the so-called write-in loophole would better reflect the state's purple nature.

"In this day and time when we have so many NPA’s in the state, particularly the young people, is this something we want to do for the next 20 years?” Weissert says.

The Commission makes its own rules, and it can do just about anything it wants. The only check is that it has to be approved by voters.

The commission has only met twice in the state's history. In 1978, voters turned down five proposed amendments. In 1998, eight to ten ideas were approved.

Governor Rick Scott has 16 appointments to the revision commission, including naming its chair. The House Speaker and Senate President each have 9 appointments. Questions about judicial independence and an independent funding source for the courts are expected to produce heated debate when the commission meets.

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