Program Urges Florida Voters to “Revise with Caution”
With a recent survey showing that 9 of 10 Floridians are unaware of what the Constitution Revision Commission does, The Florida Bar today launched Protect Florida Democracy: Our Constitution, Our Rights, Our Courts, a statewide public education program to fill the void in Floridians’ awareness of constitution revision and engage Floridians in this critical process.
“Florida’s constitution determines how much power we the citizens give to our state government and what form that takes,” said Michael J. Higer, President of The Florida Bar. “It is therefore important that we all tune in, stay informed and educated as to any process to amend Florida’s Constitution. It is critical we stay engaged to make sure that we exercise great caution as to any proposed amendment.”
A recent independent survey by Breakthrough Research found that 8 in 10 Floridians had never even heard of the Constitution Revision Commission. Of the few who had heard of the CRC, 1 in 3 wrongly identified its role, which spurred the Bar to create the Protect Florida Democracy public education program. The survey collected responses from a representative sample of about 800 Florida voters.
While 44 percent of voters surveyed identified the Florida Constitution as “the people’s contract with their government,” the survey revealed confusion about the roles of the branches of government, with 71 percent failing to identify the executive branch as the branch that carries out and enforces laws (57 percent said judicial, 10 percent said legislative, and 4 percent said they didn’t know).
“As citizens consider the merits of proposed constitutional amendments, they should think about any unintended consequences. Maintaining the equality of our three branches of government including the judiciary is fundamental and sacrosanct. This is a bedrock principle that safeguards us all,” Higer said. “The Bar’s Protect Florida Democracy initiative is an important educational effort to help every citizen understand that the constitution should not be amended without careful thought.”
The survey does indicate that Floridians understand the importance of the separation of powers. A total of 93 percent said they consider the separation of powers very important and 96 percent expressed concern about any attempt to give one branch of government more power than another.
Kicking off the educational effort at Florida’s Historic Capitol were two historical figures — Alexander Hamilton and Frederick Douglass — to lend their perspectives, in character, about the importance of both the federal and state constitutions.
The Bar intends to engage Floridians in Protect Florida Democracy through an informational website, weekly newsletter, statewide speakers bureau and engaging social media campaign. The initiative will leverage historical figures who helped shape and protect the democratic process throughout history, featuring original line drawings of and quotations from such select “protectors of democracy” as Hamilton, Susan B. Anthony, Thurgood Marshall, Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch — noteworthy Americans who have worked to uphold foundational principles of a democratic system of government.
“The work of the Constitution Revision Commission has the potential to impact the lives of every Floridian, now and for many years to come. The Florida Bar is pleased to launch this program to inform and educate Florida’s citizens and give them a voice in what happens,” Higer said. “We urge every Floridian to get involved and participate in shaping our state government by following and participating in this once-every-20-year constitution revision process.”
Besides educating the public, the Bar also has created a special committee to provide technical legal assistance to the CRC upon request.
The CRC meets every 20 years to review and revise the Florida Constitution. It is the only method by which amendments affecting the full scope of Florida’s Constitution may be put on the General Election ballot without review by the legislative, judicial or executive branches.
The commission convened in May and traveled the state on a listening tour to hear residents’ thoughts and ideas about proposals to revise the Florida Constitution. All proposed amendments by the CRC are due to be filed by May 10, 2018. Protect Florida Democracy will remain active throughout the duration of this period, providing information and updates to Florida residents.
Protect Florida Democracy is a nonpartisan public education program by The Florida Bar, with the goal of improving knowledge about the Constitution Revision Commission among Floridians and encouraging participation and engagement in the process. Learn more at www.protectfldemocracy.org.