Proposed rules for the Constitution Revision Commission could let members deliberate in secret, limit public participation, bottle up ideas in committee, or bog down debating proposals with little support, government watchdog groups warned Monday.
Sixteen organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Florida Consumer Action Network, and unions, including Florida AFL-CIO, critiqued the proposed rules in a letter to the commission’s rules committee.
“Transparency and a clear set of ground rules are essential to the credibility of the CRC. As members of the Rules Working Group, you have an opportunity to enhance public confidence in the work of the CRC,” the organizations wrote.
They warned of “the potential for leverage and influence over commission members” and an “unclear track for approval of proposals.”
For example, they said, draft rules appear to allow chairman Carlos Beruff to limit distribution of literature outside commission meetings. Furthermore, committee chairs would decide whether to recognize members of the public to speak during meetings.
“This discretion should be removed and committee chairs should be required to permit the public to he heard on all issues taken up at each committee meeting,” subject to reasonable time limits, the organizations wrote.
“The only reason to exclude members of the pubic should be for public disturbance or disorderly conduct,” they said.
The commission has begun hearing public testimony about proposed revisions without benefit of formal rules. Beruff has promised them by the end of June.
“The letter was received by commissioners and we are reviewing it,” commission spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said.
“The CRC encourages all interested Floridians to attend the Rules Working Group meeting on Wednesday, May 17 in Tampa from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry Campus. There will be opportunity for public comment before the working group,” Beatrice said.
Rules governing the last commission, which deliberated in 1997-98, placed greater emphasis on openness and transparency, the organizations said.
Another example: “The draft rules limit transparency by changing the requirement that records be ‘open’ to requiring that the commission’s records be ‘accessible.’ What does ‘accessible’ mean? The word ‘open” is the word that is used in the open records laws.”
Furthermore, the draft rules would allow private meetings between members to discuss business, in violation of the spirit of Florida’s open-government laws. Committee meetings could be scheduled to conflict with each other, the organizations said.
The chairman would be empowered to shunt proposals into hostile committees, and limit the full committee’s power to override committees.
The draft rules would remove a 1997-98 requirement that 10 commissioners vote to consider proposals; instead, a single commissioner could move to take up ideas.
“This new rule has the potential to burden the commission with many more proposals than might be otherwise necessary, taking time away from other more widely approved proposals,” the organizations wrote.
The proposed rules ban commissioners from accepting gifts from lobbyists, except for campaign contributions.
“That means legislators and other elected officials might be influenced to vote on issues based on whether their votes will yield campaign contributions,” the organizations said.
Here is the full list of suggestions.