May 16, 2011
“No need to worry, folks, we're just streamlining here,” is the subtle message.
But let's do worry.
The proposal at hand could water down or even eliminate the gillnet ban of 1995 that has revolutionized our fisheries for the public's benefit.
Or, depending on endless possible variations, the silver-tongued streamliners could convert hundreds of constitutional provisions into statutes, which could then be wiped out or rewritten by legislators without the public's intrusiveness.
This latest rendition in attempts to stifle citizen initiatives comes from the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Daniel Webster. The project report, burdened with 5,710 words, is called “Options for Streamlining the State Constitution.”
At first blush, the thing seems harmless enough.
The concept is that we should take any “legislative matter” out of the constitution, meaning any provision that could have been addressed by statute. Why? Ostensibly, to avoid “clutter.” I didn't realize we're handicapped by constitutional clutter.
The net ban, smoking ban and lottery came from citizen initiatives that ought to have been statutes, the report indicates, as if they had any chance that way.
Well, gang, these tired arguments are all right to bang around in a political science seminar, but in what's called “the real world,” the present system works just fine. There are glitches, certainly, but mistakes are made no more often than by the legislature itself.
In the case of the net ban, it's not a question whether the reform should be a statute or constitutional provision. It's either the latter, or nothing.
Legislators in their lack of wisdom had refused to tame the huge gill nets, year after year after year. The citizen initiative was not just a better path to follow, it was the only one.
The successful citizen campaign to limit terms of lawmakers was among other changes forced by the voters after being rejected by legislators.
Small wonder that some of the office holders pushing the so-called streamlining are themselves being “termed out” of the legislature by the public.
It's popular, by the way, for the streamliners to say that the public is flooded with too many initiatives. Sometimes, the media picks up that same lament. But the truth is that only a small percentage of proposals talked about on the street actually make it to the ballot. And the great majority of amendments that do make it are put there not by the people but by legislative resolution.
One of the legislative-born changes will be voted on this fall. It would require that amendments receive at least 60 percent approval by the voters. That, in itself, may be all right.
But at this point any of the streamlining schemes should be considered suspect.