Dozens of changes proposed for state constitution

From banning the death penalty to creating an elected secretary of state, members of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission have filed more than five-dozen proposals to change the state Constitution.

The 37 members of the commission, which meets every 20 years and has the power to place amendments directly on the November 2018 ballot, had until just before midnight Tuesday to file their proposals. As of early Tuesday evening, 64 proposals were posted on the commission's website.

That list is expected to grow, said Meredith Beatrice, a commission spokeswoman. She said the commission will announce the final list when it is complete.

The proposals reflect a wide array of issues affecting the judiciary, public schools, criminal justice, elections, environmental issues, ethics and higher education.

One popular measure filed by four commissioners would raise the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.

Commissioner Don Gaetz, a former Senate president, added a variation in his proposal (P8) that would also require justices appointed to the Florida Supreme Court and judges appointed to state appellate courts to be confirmed by the Senate.

Gaetz was one of several commissioners filing proposals to expand the three-member state Cabinet. His proposal (P14) would return the secretary of state, who is now appointed by the governor, to a statewide elected Cabinet position.

Florida had an elected secretary of state in the past, but the position became appointed after voters in 1998 approved a constitutional amendment that reduced the size of the Cabinet.

“With Florida's history of electoral flubs and with all the rhetoric nationally about stolen elections and interference and voter suppression, I really think it's important that we have an independent secretary of state,” Gaetz said.

Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch also wants to expand the Cabinet, adding a new elected position of commissioner of environmental protection (P24).

Gaetz and Commissioner Darryl Rouson, a state senator, have filed proposals (P39, P19) that would strengthen state ethics laws by banning former public officials, including state lawmakers, from lobbying government agencies for six years after they leave office. The current ban is two years.

Commissioner Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member, filed several measures impacting local school systems, including an eight-year term limit (P43) and the elimination of salaries (P32) for school board members.

Another Donalds measure (P33) would require the appointment of school superintendents, which is now done by 26 of the 67 school districts. Most districts have historically elected superintendents.

Donalds was also one of several commissioners supporting measures to eliminate the use of public financing for statewide elections (P31, P56).

The commission in the coming months will debate the proposals and narrow the list to measures that will go on next year's general-election ballot.

For a measure to end up on the ballot, it will need support from 22 of the 37 commission members. The commission has a May 10 deadline for its proposals, which also would need to win support from 60 percent of the voters to be enacted.

Several measures are likely to be contentious, including a proposal (P36) from Commissioner Roberto Martinez, a former federal prosecutor, that would ban the death penalty in Florida and replace it with a maximum sentence of life “without the possibility of release.”

Commissioner John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer and anti-abortion advocate, has filed a measure (P22) that would limit the right of privacy in the Constitution. That part of the Constitution has been used to protect abortion rights in judicial rulings.

Measures (P4, P59) also have been filed to eliminate or modify a provision in Constitution that bans public funding, directly or indirectly, for religious groups.

Other proposals filed by commissioners include:

--- Creating a statewide governing board for state colleges, by Commissioner Sherry Plymale (P25).

--- Requiring Florida businesses to use E-verify or a similar system to confirm employees are not undocumented immigrants, by Commissioner Rich Newsome (P29).

--- Requiring an extraordinary vote by the university system's Board of Governors and university boards of trustees to raise tuition and fees, by Commissioner Nicole Washington (P44).

--- Establishing rights for electricity customers, by Newsome (P51), and for health-care patients, by Commissioner Frank Kruppenbacher (P57).

--- Appointing, rather than electing, circuit and county judges, by Kruppenbacher (P58).

--- Requiring Bright Futures merit scholarships and a need-based aid program to cover 100 percent of tuition and fees for higher-education students, by Commissioner Marva Johnson (P60).

--- Requiring a two-thirds vote by the Legislature when restricting “home rule” powers of a city, by Commissioner Chris Smith (P61).

--- Restoring voting rights to felons who have served their time, by Smith and Commissioner Arthenia Joyner (P7).

--- Allowing voters registered without any party affiliation to vote in primary elections, by Commissioner Bill Schifino (P62).