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Citizens address gamut of issues at Tampa meeting of constitutional panel

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Florida’s vicennial Constitution Revision Commission made its first stop in the Tampa Bay area Wednesday.

Members of the public came before the 37-member council — organized to get together every 20 years — and were allowed only two minutes to discuss what amendments should, or should not, be placed on the 2018 ballot.

The first speaker, 18-year-old graduating high school senior John Alvarez, said one of the best ways to overcome income inequality in Florida would be to implement a state income tax, getting rid of the sales tax.

“We rank second for regressive and abuse of bottom income earners,” he said.

Andrew Vila didn’t want the Commission to make any changes, but if they did, he asked for them to ratify school choice into the state’s Constitution.

Mark Klutho blasted the Legislature for failing to implement recently passed constitutional amendments regarding solar power, the environment and medical marijuana that have been held back in part by the Legislature. “What are these amendments mean if the Legislature won’t do a damn thing when the taxpayer says this is what our vote is? ” he asked.

“The way I see it, this is just a big farce,” Klutho added, eliciting large cheers from the audience.

Hillsborough Clerk of the Court Pat Frank took an opportunity to (once again) complain about how the Legislature failed to abide by a 2004 constitutional amendment transferring responsibility of funding clerks offices from counties to the state of Florida.

Frank said that collectively, clerks took in nearly $777 million in 2016, yet only $409 million went back to their offices.

There was lots of talk about guns both from Second Amendment supporters and gun control advocates. Each side warned the commission not to allow changes to the constitution supporting the other side.

“Any changes are an abridgment to liberties of the citizens,” said Nicholas Malone.

Sarah Johnson, with the anti-gambling advocates at No Casinos, said gambling groups have violated the state constitution for years by no longer going through the people to expand gambling, going directly to state legislators instead.

“We believe this shift violates Article 10, Section 7 of Florida’s current constitution,” Johnson said, adding that the power to allow building casinos in a community should be left to the voters.

Johnson then called for support of the Voter Control of Gambling Amendment.

“Deciding whether Florida becomes the next Las Vegas or Atlantic City shouldn’t be up to the legislators, it should be up to the voters of Florida,” she said.

As was the case in several other CRC public meetings, members of the public called for open primaries, allowing independents to vote in Democratic and Republican primary elections.

“I’ve been a Republican for over 45 years,” said Penny Hunter, “and I can’t imagine why we closed our primaries.”

Hunter lamented about how phony write-in candidates prevent voters from a different party to run in the primaries.

Citizens at the meeting also advocated for ranked choice voting, public financing of campaigns and the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons.

Several members of the League of Women Voters repeated similar talking points, each calling for the commission to act with full transparency in their meetings.

Mickey Castor was concerned that the Commission would change the Fair Districts Amendment voters passed in 2010.

Gerald White requested that the Commission place a measure on the ballot to make the Secretary of State an elected Cabinet position. A bill sponsored in the Senate by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean looking to do just that died on the last day of Session.

After most of the crowd repeatedly applauded statements made by progressives, Commission Chair Carlos Beruff castigated the audience, admonishing them to keep quiet.

Audience members then flashed green cards in support of statements, red cards in opposition.

The meeting was held at the Dale Mabry Campus of Hillsborough Community College.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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