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Gun Control Among Issues Teed Up For Constitution Panel

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The debate over gun control is ready to move to a new forum, as the Florida Constitution Revision Commission next week begins the process of deciding what issues to place on the November ballot.

Facing a May 10 deadline, the commission will start meeting Monday in the Senate chamber in Tallahassee as it considers three dozen proposed constitutional changes that have emerged from committee hearings.

The commission, which meets every 20 years and has the unique power to place issues directly on the general election ballot, has scheduled seven floor sessions to wade through the proposals, ending on March 27.

One measure (Proposal 3), sponsored by Commissioner Roberto Martinez of Miami, is likely to generate debate, as it has attracted several amendments related to gun control in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The amendment was initially designed to remove an obsolete provision in the Florida Constitution that bars illegal immigrants from owning land.

But Martinez, a former federal prosecutor, has filed an amendment that would also require anyone purchasing a firearm to be 21 years old. And it would require at least a three-day waiting period after a gun purchase to carry out a “comprehensive background check.” It would ban “bump stocks,” devices added to weapons to greatly increase their firing capacity.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale has another proposed amendment that would ban assault-style weapons.

Also, Commissioner Hank Coxe of Jacksonville has filed an amendment that would raise the age of buying a firearm to 21 and would impose a 10-day waiting period. It also would ban bump stocks. Commissioners Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Sherry Plymale of Palm City and Frank Kruppenbacher of Orlando are supporting Coxe’s amendment.

The attempts to place the gun-control measures into the state Constitution follow the passage of a new school-safety law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott last week, that raises the age from 18 to 21 and imposes a three-day waiting period for the purchase of rifles and other long guns. The National Rifle Association has filed a lawsuit challenging the age requirement.

Other proposals that will considered by the full commission include:

--- Martinez is sponsoring a measure (Proposal 4) that would remove from the state Constitution the so-called “no-aid” provision, which prevents public spending on churches and other religiously affiliated groups.

--- Commissioner Erika Donalds of Naples has several education-related measures, including a proposal (Proposal 33) that would require all school superintendents to be appointed. She has another measure (Proposal 43) that would impose an eight-year term limit on school board members.

--- Commissioner Rich Newsome of Orlando has a proposal (Proposal 29) that would require businesses licensed in the state to use E-Verify or a similar system to determine the immigration-related eligibility of their employees.

--- Kruppenbacher has a proposal (Proposal 54) that would eliminate the state’s controversial “certificate of need” process, which restricts construction of hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other medical facilities.

--- Commissioner Lisa Carlton of Sarasota has a proposal (Proposal 65), that would ban vaping in workplaces.

--- Commissioner Tom Lee of Thonotosassa has a proposal (Proposal 69) that would ban greyhound racing and a proposal (Proposal 66) that would assign more official duties to the office of lieutenant governor.

--- Commissioner Tim Cerio of Tallahassee has a proposal (Proposal 96) that would establish more rights for victims of crime, including the right to refuse to give a deposition to the defense.

To remain viable as potential ballot initiatives, all the measures must receive a majority vote from the commission to advance to the CRC’s Style and Drafting Committee.

The style and drafting panel, which also will begin meeting next week, will play a key role in refining the proposals and creating ballot titles. The committee will also decide whether to let proposals stand as individual items or to group several proposals into single ballot items.

Proposals approved by the Style and Drafting Committee, which is scheduled to meet until April 13, will return to the full commission where they must receive at least 22 votes from the 37-member group to be placed on the November 2018 general election ballot.

Proposals placed on the ballot will need support from at least 60 percent of the voters to be enacted.

After finishing its March meetings, the full commission will return to Tallahassee on April 16 and could meet until May 4 to finish its work. Its final report must be sent to Secretary of State Ken Detzner by May 10.