Tampa Bay Times // John Romano
This is your shindig. Or at least it’s supposed to be.
The Constitution Revision Commission was created a half-century ago just so you, the Florida voter, would have a chance every generation to consider major changes to how the state is run.
Unfortunately, we put politicians in charge of choosing the party’s soundtrack.
And that means we get the same ol’ song-and-dance.
Let me explain:
The folks in charge of the commission — chosen almost entirely by the governor, Senate president and House speaker — spent months listening to ideas from Florida residents about possible constitutional amendments to be put on the ballot in 2018. They heard thousands of ideas. Literally, more than 2,000.
And of all those proposals, do you know how many were chosen for further consideration? Six. Or, if you’re mathematically inclined, about 0.3 percent.
The last time a commission was put together, back in 1997-98, it seemed to take its obligation to residents more seriously. About 18 percent of the public proposals advanced to the committee level.
So, okay, maybe they’re just being picky this time. Maybe they are determined not to overwhelm the ballot with unnecessary amendments. Maybe, when it comes time to offer their own proposals, they’ll be just as finicky as they were with the public suggestions.
And then we get days like Wednesday.
The folks on one committee approved a potential amendment that would repeal a ban on sending taxpayer money directly to religious institutions, including private schools.
Now if that sounds familiar to you, it should. The Legislature put a similar amendment on the ballot in 2012. And it was defeated by voters. With emphatic fervor, I might add.
Constitutional amendments need 60 percent of the vote to pass, and this stinker got 44.5 percent in 2012. In other words, it got a lot fewer votes than Mitt Romney did in Florida. And I’m not hearing a lot of groundswell for his comeback.
This isn’t an argument against the merits of the amendment. There will be plenty of time for that discussion if the proposal gets the necessary approval from the entire commission and finds its way onto the 2018 ballot.
Instead, this is an argument against the process. The commission is supposed to give voters an opportunity to have their say. It’s not supposed to be a second chance for failed legislative priorities.
And, yet, that’s exactly what we’re seeing.
Wednesday’s proposal to repeal the ban on taxpayer money going to churches, synagogues and mosques is only one of several that would lead the way to universal school vouchers and the subsequent bankrupting of Florida’s public schools. Because the courts have slapped down other attempts at expanding vouchers, lawmakers are doing an end-around with the amendment.
The commission is doing a similar ploy to resurrect a 24-hour waiting period on abortions that the courts have also deemed unconstitutional. It might also mess with a previously passed class-size amendment.
These are ideas that your career politicians in Tallahassee have been trying to force through for years. And, instead of taking no for an answer, they are repackaging their proposals in cheerful new language with the hope that you’re not paying close attention.
It’s a heck of a way to run a commission that was created ostensibly to give Florida residents a greater say in how the state is run.
But, you know what they say in Tallahassee:
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try to scam the voters again.