Florida voters will have a great chance this year to act when the Legislature won’t.
Every 20 years, a Constitution Revision Commission meets to propose amendments to the state’s foundation document. The commission doesn’t have to propose anything to the voters but generally at least a few amendments emerge.
This is most useful in cases like the terrible write-in loophole in which write-in candidates, often not serious, enter races and thus close primaries to many voters. Those of the opposing party and independents get shut out from participating in America’s sacred voting process.
The Legislature will never take action to deal with this because Democrats in South Florida and Republicans in North Florida like to maintain their power.
Since there is no citizen’s referendum on the ballot, this is a perfect opportunity for the Constitution Revision Commission.
There is no doubt that 60 percent of Florida voters — the minimum threshold for passage — would vote to open up the election process.
But there is a downside. Home rule is under attack in Tallahassee. Legislators, especially leaders in the House, continue to interfere in decisions made at the local level.
The conservative motto that the best government is closest to the people is turned upside-down in Tallahassee.
Now the Florida Association of Counties has sent a warning that the Constitution Revision Commission is set to consider a proposal Friday that would “eliminate home rule as we know it.”
Proposal 95 would prohibit a county’s regulation of any trade unless it operated only in the entity’s own boundaries.
This proposal’s problem is a common one in Tallahassee. It’s too broad. By not providing a definition of “commerce, trade or labor,” it would lead to massive legal challenges against local ordinances.
So counties like Duval could be restricted on zoning, tree protection, animal control and even traffic.
We can envision local laws that create confusion for business, such as restrictions on sale of fertilizer in one county but not another. But these issues need to be handled in the Legislature and not in Florida’s Constitution.
VOTES FOR EX-FELONS
There are 1.6 million people in the Sunshine State who have been barred for life from voting — the highest rate of disenfranchisement in the country.
In fact, 1 in every 10 adults in this state can’t vote due to a felony conviction.
But on Tuesday, the state certified 766,000 names on a petition to put the “Second Chances Voting Restoration Amendment” on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Desmond Meade of Orlando, who led the effort, was ecstatic.
“We’re one step closer to liberating and giving over 1.68 million people a shot at redemption, a shot at restoration, a shot at citizenship,” Meade said through tears.
If approved, the measure would restore voting rights to Floridians who had received felony convictions but only after they had completed their entire sentences, including probation or parole.
Felons who have been convicted of murder or sexual offenses would still be barred from voting.
Sixty percent of voters would have to approve the measure for it to become law.
Meade has been fighting for years for this chance.
He had been convicted on drug and firearms charges in 2001 but after serving his time, attended law school. He, however, couldn’t even vote for his wife when she ran for the Florida House in 2016.
But for Meade, this fight was for the people “who knew they were so much better than their past said they were,” he said. “They deserve to live with dignity and respect.”
Florida’s law banning ex-felons from voting dates to 1868 when a variety of means like poll taxes were used to restrict votes from African-Americans.
Only four states in the nation bar ex-felons from voting for life — Florida, Iowa, Virginia and Kentucky.
Florida needs to join the larger community and end discriminatory practices.
That’s where you come in.
It’s up to you and other Florida voters to decide whether the privilege of voting should be extended to a group of individuals who have been forbidden to enter voting booths in this state.
It’s time we give former felons the freedom to cast a ballot.
Floridians will have the chance to decide this November whether a felony in effect becomes a lifetime voting ban..
CIVIL RIGHTS TRAIL SKIPS US
This editorial page has been commenting in recent months on Jacksonville’s proud history involving its African-American residents and its civil rights history.
Much of the impetus for this emphasis is based on the lack of attention this history has been given in Jacksonville.
A new example of this forgotten history comes in the announcement of a new U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
It covers 14 states and more than 100 historic landmarks.
Yet Florida is not included, despite all the great history in this state, but especially in the Jacksonville and St. Augustine areas.
Where are our civil rights memorials?
A Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., the site of sit-ins in 1960, is now a civil rights museum.
Jacksonville had sit-ins near Hemming Park. Where’s our civil rights museum?
The Ritz does a lot but it deserves more funding and support.
For instance, plaques are not enough at James Weldon Johnson’s homesite in LaVilla or for A. Philip Randolph in the Prime Osborn Convention Center.
The shame is that the rest of the nation is unlikely to know that James Weldon and Rosamond Johnson, writers of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” wrote this classic in Jacksonville for Stanton students.
Jacksonville is the site of major educational institutions for African-Americans including Edward Waters College, Stanton and Darnell-Cookman schools.
Florida and Jacksonville need to be on the Civil Rights Trail. First, Jacksonville must act with more than plaques.