By Vivian Cortes Hodz
In November, Florida voters will have the opportunity to cast their votes to amend Florida’s central organizing document — the Florida Constitution. The Florida Constitution Revision Commission will soon hold a second round of public hearings across the state and has reviewed the state constitution, proposing possible amendments that will go directly to voters on the 2018 General Election ballot.
This process, unique to Florida, allows voters access to policies that govern our everyday lives. But despite its importance, a recent survey shows that only 1 in 10 Floridians can correctly identify the Constitution Revision Commission.
The Constitution Revision Commission is a once-every-20-year process in which 37 members come together to conduct a thorough review and propose changes to the Florida Constitution. Since the last commission convened 20 years ago, Florida’s population has increased by over 5.4 million people — that’s more than the entire population of 29 states. Of those new Floridians, 1.5 million have come here in the just past five years.
In light of this tremendous growth, it is crucial to educate Floridians — both old and new — about the revision process, the role of the Florida Constitution, and the vital need to safeguard it.
Hispanic Floridians have been an essential part of Florida from before its founding as a state, even contributing our state’s name: La Florida. Census data shows our community’s influence has only grown, with an increase of 2.8 million Hispanic residents since the last Constitution Revision Commission conducted its review two decades ago.
As Florida residents, we have an opportunity to participate in the democratic process and in shaping our state government by participating in the Constitution Revision Commission. But it’s important that when we do revise, we do so with caution.
Unlike state laws, which can implement time-limited policies, the Florida Constitution and its amendments are meant to establish a lasting framework for our government and our rights. So, it is essential we understand that the Florida Constitution is — and should remain — a limited document. The constitution is not designed for highly specific permissions or prohibitions, but should be general and applicable to all residents of the state.
One example of a broad change that applies generally was the amendment that came out of the 1997-98 commission creating the State Board of Education — it relates to the structure of government and provides oversight to ensure accessibility to free public education for all children. It has broad application to Florida residents and is appropriate for the constitution, regardless of what you think of the idea itself.
As you participate in this process, and when the time comes to vote, be sure to keep in mind the possible consequences of each proposal. Ask yourself: Is this something that will become outdated? Does it apply to only a small number of Floridians? Does it set specific policy? If so, it may be better suited as a statute than as a constitutional amendment.
The Constitution Revision Commission provides all Floridians with the opportunity to raise our voices and protect our democratic process. With the education and participation of all residents, we can continue to improve our government and our communities.
Vivian Cortes Hodz is the immediate past president of the Tampa Hispanic Bar Association. For more information on the Constitution Revision Commission and how you can participate in this important process, visit www.protectfldemocracy.org/.