January 1, 2005 Senior Editor Regular News Panels to work on amendment process, independence issues Panels to work on amendment process, independence issues Gary Blankenship Senior Editor The Bar will be taking a careful look at how the state constitution is amended and judicial independence with two new committees approved by the Board of Governors.The board, at its December 10 meeting, approved the recommendation of the Program Evaluation Committee to create the Special Board Committee on Judicial Independence, sought by Bar President Kelly Overstreet Johnson, and the Special Board Committee to Study the Florida Constitutional Amendment Process, sought by President-elect Alan Bookman.The judicial independence committee will “consider various methods of strengthening Florida’s judiciary and maintaining its independence, including but not limited to possible changes in state constitutional or statutory law,” Johnson said in a memo to the board.“Among specific issues of likely consideration, I would hope that this group would explore potential changes in the composition and appointment of our state’s judicial nominating commissions, money raising options to endorse candidates supporting judicial independence, as well as other reforms.”Johnson said while she hopes the committee can finish its work before her term ends in June, there’s a good chance it will require more time.The chair is board member Jesse Diner, and other members are board members Gwynne Young, vice chair, Ervin Gonzalez, Kim Bald, Jay White, Chris Lombardo, Greg Parker, Henry Latimer, Scott Hawkins, and Mayanne Downs.The action on the constitutional amendment committee came after the board had a discussion at its October meeting about whether the Florida Constitution is being degraded by numerous initiative petitions on topics ranging from gambling to care of pregnant pigs to high-speed rail systems.“It has obviously been a concern to the Bar and the legislative and executive branches,” Bookman said. “We need to study this issue, and we need to see if any changes need to be made.“We need to protect citizens’ right to participate, but the constitution is our founding document and it needs to be protected from unnecessary changes.”As an example, Bookman noted that voters approved in 2000 a constitutional amendment requiring the state to build a bullet train linking major cities, and then repealed it in 2004.He said the committee will likely look at allowing citizens to enact statutes by initiative, something they now cannot do, while making the constitutional amendment process more restrictive. He also said the panel would look at proposed legislation, including two bills already filed in the Senate. One of those would limit citizen amendment initiatives to issues affecting basic human rights, and the other would require a 60 percent passage rate for amendments.The committee, Bookman said, hopefully will work with the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, as well as the public and business interests to seek a common ground.The panel will be chaired by board member Harold Melville. Other members are public member Blair Culpepper, who will be vice chair, and board members Nancy Gregoire, Scott Hawkins, Chris Lombardo, Ross Goodman, Grier Wells, and Larry Sellers. Bookman said he hopes the committee can have its final report by August.