Every 20 years, Florida’s core governing document, the Florida Constitution, is opened up for a top-to-bottom review. Through this process, the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) carefully examines and determines what, if any, amendments to propose directly to the citizens of our state.
Under our form of government, the only power the government has is the power that we, the people, give to the government. The place where that happens is the Florida Constitution.
As Americans, we are familiar with the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, many of them enshrined in the Bill of Rights. But the people of Florida have given themselves additional rights and protections through our state constitution, including explicit guarantees of privacy and access to public records, among others.
Right now, the CRC is reviewing our Florida Constitution. In order to inform, educate and engage both our lawyers and our citizens, The Florida Bar recently launched the education program “Protect Florida Democracy: Our Constitution, Our Rights, Our Courts.”
Here is why the CRC process is so important: Amendments put forth by the commission could change basic rights ensured by our state constitution, or substantially change the way our government conducts business.
After considering suggestions from citizens and its members, by May 2018, the CRC will make final decisions on which proposed amendments to submit to the voters and those ideas will go directly to the ballot, without any other authorities reviewing.
In the November 2018 general election, we, the voters, will have the opportunity and the responsibility to decide which of the proposed amendments will pass and which will fail. Proposed constitutional amendments must receive 60 percent of the public’s vote to change Florida’s Constitution.
The decisions by the CRC could affect the rights of all of us including the balance of power in our state. It is therefore imperative that all of us pay close attention to this process.
Through “Protect Florida Democracy,” The Florida Bar will inform, educate and engage Floridians as to what the CRC is considering and how each of us can engage in the process. A lot is at stake.
We should pay careful attention to the proposals and only revise our constitution with caution. Specifically, we should remember that our democratic process was built on a foundation of three separate but equal branches of government. A complex and delicate balance of power exists among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and it is of the utmost importance that we safeguard this balance.
Any proposal that tips the scales in favor of one branch over another should be viewed with great caution. Our democracy has endured for so long largely thanks to this elegant balance, and it is important that we protect it.
This guest column was written by Michael J. Higer, who is president of The Florida Bar.