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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Melissa Hawthorne stood before the Florida Constitution Revision Commission to make an impassioned plea.

Her son suffered at the charter school he attended because the school wasn’t held to any standards and failed to discover his learning disability, Hawthorne said. Only after attending a public school did he get the help he needed.

At a public meeting at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on April 26, Hawthorne implored the commission not to make any changes to Article Nine of the Florida Constitution, which deals with the quality and requirements of the education system.

Hawthorne was just one of many who attended the meeting to share which parts of the state constitution they thought should or should not be amended. Such amendments could be placed on the 2018 election ballot by the commission.

Armed with stacks of amendment proposals, carefully planned speeches and cards indicating their opinions, the people of Central Florida let the commissioners know their views on hot-button issues, such as open primary elections, an independent judiciary, environmental issues and a woman’s right to choose regarding abortion.

The most popular issue of the night was education. There were a number of speakers who emphasized that Article Nine of the Florida Constitution should not be changed.

In the audience, many green cards went into the air to indicate support for not allowing school vouchers and charter schools to receive public-school money. Alachua County school board member Eileen Roy spoke at the hearing in defense of public schools.

“Public schools are the bedrock of American democracy,” Roy said to applause from the audience.

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe and Inglis Mayor Drinda Merritt attended the meeting to talk about maintaining cities’ ability to govern themselves in the constitution.

They both made speeches focusing on the positives of cities being able to pass laws that directly affect their citizens. Both felt citizen-centered government should maintain its ability to listen to and decide what’s best for the people.

“The only government that has any idea what the residents want is the local government,” Merritt said.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission will review amendment proposals and choose ones to be placed on the 2018 election ballot after traveling around the state to hear from other people.

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