Florida Constitution

Florida Constitution

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The Constitution of the State of Florida is the document that establishes and describes the duties, powers, structure and function of the government of the U.S. state of Florida, and establishes the basic law of the state.

Florida has been ruled by six different constitutions since acceding to the United States. The current Constitution of Florida was ratified on November 5, 1968.



1838 Florida Constitution

One of the requirements for a United States territory to become a State of the Union is that its constitution be approved by the United States Congress. In order to fulfill that requirement, an Act was passed by the Territorial Council in 1838, approved by Governor Richard Keith Call, calling for the election of delegates in October 1838 to a convention to be held at St. Joseph, Florida. The delegates were to draft a constitution and bill of rights for the Territory of Florida. The Constitutional Convention convened on December 3, 1838 with Robert R. Reid presiding as president and Joshua Knowles secretary. The work of the Convention was carried out by eighteen committees, whose members were familiar with that particular area of government. The process was a relatively simple one, since they used the constitutions of several other Southern states as models. Only on the subject of banking did much debate take place. The Convention adjourned sine die on January 9, 1839.

A handwritten copy of the 1838 Constitution or "Form of Government for the People of Florida," signed by Convention President, Robert Raymond Reid, and Convention Secretary, Joshua Knowles resides at the State Archives of Florida. Considered "a secretary's copy" this document is the only known copy of the 1838 Constitution. The original Constitution, signed by all the delegates, has never been found.[1]

Ordinance of secession, 1861

The onrush of the American Civil War brought in Florida the election in 1860 of a convention "for the purpose of taking into consideration the position of this State in the Federal Union." Pursuant to an Act of the Legislature approved November 30, 1860, governor Madison S. Perry issued a proclamation calling an election on Saturday, December 22, 1860, for delegates to a Convention to address the issue of whether Florida had a right to withdraw from the Union. The Secession Convention met on January 3, 1861 in Tallahassee and produced for adoption on January 10 an Ordinance of Secession and a Constitution which largely altered the existing Constitution by substituting "Confederate States" for "United States" and by declaring Florida to be "a sovereign and independent nation." Hon. John C. McGehee of Madison County was elected president of the Convention, and the Convention ratified the Constitution adopted by the Confederate States of America on April 13 and adjourned sine die on April 27, 1861.

Since the Convention generally approved of Governor Perry's actions it made no move to interfere with his administration; however, when Governor John Milton took office in October 1861 and reversed some policies of his predecessor, a move was started to reconvene the Convention. President McGehee issued a proclamation on December 13 for the convention to meet on January 14, 1862, at Tallahassee. McGehee expressed concern over two matters: the state's finances and the powers of the Governor during wartime. To remedy the latter, the members appointed an Executive Council of four men to share the executive authority because they felt that the powers of a wartime executive should not be placed in the hands of one man. The Convention adjourned sine die on January 27, 1862.

The 1865 Florida Constitution

To re-enter the union under Presidential Reconstruction a constitution was created by a convention called by the appointed governor. On October 10, 1865, the Constitutional Convention met in Tallahassee to nullify the Ordinance of Secession of 1861 and adopt a new constitution for the State of Florida. The new constitution went into effect on November 7, 1865, without being submitted to the people for ratification. The Constitution of 1865 was never fully effective. The U.S. Congress rejected it and put Florida under Radical Reconstruction, i.e. military rule, until July 1868 when a new constitution was written.

The 1868 Florida Constitution

The Reconstruction constitution returned civilian control of the state.

Florida became subject to the military authority of the federal government in 1867. Pursuant to an Act of Congress, General John Pope, Commander of the 3rd Military District, issued an order on April 8, 1867, dividing the 39 counties of the State into 19 districts for the election of delegates to a convention to frame a new State Constitution. The Constitution had to conform with the Federal Constitution and with the 13th and 14th Amendments. The Convention met in Tallahassee on January 20, 1868. As the Convention began its functions, bitter factions were formed, and only under after federal government intervention was the Convention brought under control. The Convention reconvened on February 18, 1868, and Horatio Jenkins, Jr. was elected President. The Constitution was adopted by the people of Florida in May 1868. It conferred electoral franchise upon "male persons" instead of "white male persons" as by the 1865 Constitution. With its acceptance by the federal military authorities, the State of Florida was recognized as being restored to the Union, and its Senators and Representatives were admitted to Congress.

The 1885 Florida Constitution

The 1885 Constitution reversed some of the aspects of the 1868 Constitution. It established the makeup of the state government that continued until 1968.

The 1885 Legislature enacted Chapter 3577 calling for a Constitutional Convention in order to revise the Constitution of 1868. In May 1885 a general election for the selection of delegates was held throughout the state. The Convention met in Tallahassee from June 9 to August 3, 1885. Samuel Pasco of Jefferson County, Florida presided. Pursuant to Ordinance No. 1 of the Convention, the Constitution was submitted to the citizens of Florida for ratification in November 1886. The 1885 Constitution was ratified by a 31,803 to 21,243 vote.

The new constitution legitimized poll taxes as prerequisites for voting, thus effectively causing disfranchisement of blacks (and many poor whites as well). By 1888, voter turnout had decreased by 27%, and additional provisions were adopted that further suppressed voters registration and turnout. [2]

The 1968 Florida Constitution

The current Florida Constitution, the Constitution of 1968, was proposed on June 24-July 3 of 1968 via three joint resolutions in special sessions of the Florida Legislature. House Joint Resolution 1-2X included all revisions except for Article V, Article VI, and Article VIII. Senate Resolution 4-2X proposed the new Article VI which relates to elections and suffrage. Senate Resolution 5-2X proposed a new Article VIII which defined law regarding local government. Article V was included from the 1885 constitution as amended.

The constitution was ratified via referendum by the electorate on November 5, 1968.

The 1998 Constitutional Revision Commission proposed a rewrite of Article IV, Section IV of the Florida Constitution that reduced the Florida Cabinet from six elected officials to three. The change became effective January 7, 2003, and the Florida Cabinet now consists of the Attorney General, the Chief Financial Officer and the Commissioner of Agriculture. The Secretary of State and Commissioner of Education became appointed positions and their respective agencies became the responsibility of the Governor. The revised constitution also created a new State Board of Education with seven members appointed by the Governor to oversee the Department of Education. The Cabinet offices of Florida State Treasurer/Insurance Commissioner/Fire Marshal and Comptroller were combined into the new position of Chief Financial Officer who serves as head of the newly created Department of Financial Services.[3]

Provisions of the current Florida Constitution[4]

Article I: "Declaration of Rights"

The first article of the Florida Constitution contains the state's bill of rights which is very similar to the United States Bill of Rights except that there are more elaborations very similar to interpretations of the Bill of Rights by the United States Supreme Court, such as a clause stating that the freedom of religion cannot be used to justify immoral acts. Florida's Declaration of Rights also states that capital punishment is not unconstitutional and that all rights are to be consistent with the United States Supreme Court's interpretation of those rights.

Article II: "General Provisions"

The Florida constitution provides for an executive, legislative, and judicial branch. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, it mandates a separation of powers. The Florida Supreme Court has interpreted the "separation of powers" requirement to prohibit both encroachment by any one branch on the powers held by another, and delegation by any branch of its powers.

Section 1 denotes the official state boundaries.

Section 2 denotes basic rights

Section 3 proscribes for separation of powers

Section 7 mandates that those living in the Everglades Protection Area, who cause water pollution, will be primarily responsible for its remediation.

Section 9 mandates that English is the official language of the state.

Article III: "Legislature"

Article III requires that the Florida Legislature be a bicameral body, with an upper house of not more than 40 members elected to four year terms, and a lower house of not more 120 members elected to two year terms.

Sections 10 and 11 discuss special laws (those affecting portions of the state, not the entire) and prohibitions against.

Section 6 discusses the "single subject requirement" limitation on laws.

Sections 20 and 21 set standards for drawing congressional and legislative districts.

Article IV: "Executive"

Article IV governs the election of the Florida Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and of the Florida Cabinet. It currently specifies that the cabinet will consist of an Attorney General, a Chief Financial Officer, and a Commissioner of Agriculture with specifically defined powers, and it designates them as elected rather than appointed.

Article V: "Judiciary"

Article V establishes the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida District Courts of Appeal, as well as circuit and county courts, describes how they are to be appointed, and sets forth their jurisdiction. It has been amended a number of times since ratification of the 1968 Constitution. Most notably, the voters approved extensive amendments in 1972 to create a unified state courts system, placing all lower courts under the administrative supervision of Florida's chief justice. This change required the creation of a new Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator, which assists the chief justice. The 1972 amendments further reduced the different kinds of courts that existed in Florida from ten to four, and made this system uniform throughout the state for the first time in Florida history. An amendment ratified in 1976 ended contested elections for Florida's appellate judges and made them subject to merit retention votes under a modified Missouri Plan. [5]

Article VI: "Suffrage and Elections"

Discusses the requirements for voters and when voting rights are disqualified.

Section 4(b) places eight-year term limits on all legislative and executive office holders. (The section also places limits on Congressional officeholders; however, these provisions were ruled unconstitutional elsewhere and thus have no effect.)

Article VII : "Finance and Taxation"

Article VII specifically prohibits the levying of an income tax, except via very strict limitations.

The article further delineates the purposes for which bonds can be issued, and requires that certain bonds be approved by the voters in the affected area.

Article VIII: "Local Government"

Article VIII covers local government, distinguishing between charter counties and non-charter counties. Two key distinctions are set forth therein:

  1. Charter counties may pass any laws that are not inconsistent with the Florida Constitution, whereas non-charter counties may only pass laws where the state legislature authorizes them to do so.
  2. Municipal laws over-ride inconsistent laws passed by non-charter counties; for chartered counties, the charter itself will determine which law governs.

Article IX: "Education"

Discusses both PK-12 and college/university public education.

Though many states have laws requiring smaller classroom sizes, Section 1(a) places this as a constitutional requirement that, by 2010, the legislature will provide adequate funding so that PK-3 classes do not exceed 18 students/teacher, 4-8 classes do not exceed 22 students/teacher, and 9-12 classes do not exceed 25 students/teacher. Extracurricular classes are specifically exempt.

Section 1(b) also mandates a voluntary PK-4 program in all public schools.

Under Section 2, each county is a separate school district, though contiguous counties may combine into one school district upon voter approval.

Section 5 requires that the county school superintendent be elected by the voters, unless legislation has been passed which allows the individual to be employed by the school board.

Section 7 discusses the Florida State University System and its bi-level governing structure.

The overall system is governed by a 17-member Board of Governors, of which 14 members are appointed by the Governor of Florida with consent of the Florida Senate and serve staggered seven-year terms. The remaining three members consist of the Florida Commissioner of Education, the chair of the advisory council of faculty senates (or the equivalent), and the president of the Florida Student Association.

In addition, each university is governed by a 13-member Board of Trustees, of which six members are appointed by the Governor and five members appointed by the Board of Governors, with consent of the Florida Senate and serve staggered five-year terms. The remaining two members consist of the chair of the university's faculty senate and the president of the university's student body.

Article X: "Miscellaneous"

Includes various provisions.

Section 4 lays out Florida's homestead exemption provision, considered one of the most protective in the nation for resident property owners. The provision exempts from forced sale (except to pay taxes, mortgages, or mechanic's lien) 160 acres of contiguous land plus all improvements (if located outside a municipality) or 1/2 acre of contiguous land plus all improvements (if located inside a municipality), regardless of the property's value, plus personal property up to US$1,000. Upon the owner's death, the exemptions extend to the surviving spouse or to the heirs.

Section 6c, resulting from the Kelo v. City of New London decision, prohibits the conveyance of property taken by eminent domain to another person or private entity without 3/5ths approval of both houses of the Florida Legislature.

This article contains sections both prohibiting lotteries (Section 7) and simultaneously allowing them (Section 15).

Section 16 discusses the limitations on marine net fishing.

Section 20 contains a constitutional prohibition against smoking in indoor workplaces.

Section 21 contains a prohibition "[l]imiting cruel and inhumane confinement of pigs during pregnancy".

Section 22 requires parental notification prior to a minor obtaining an abortion.

Section 24 specifies the state minimum wage. Unlike the Federal and other state minimum wage laws, this section contains an annual index to adjust the wage for inflation (the wage is adjusted effective January 1 of each year).

Section 25, enacted as “Amendment 7,” regards a patient's right to discover records related to adverse medical incidents

Section 26 requires the automatic revocation of any medical license where the provider has committed three or more incidents of medical malpractice.

Article XI: "Amendments"

The method of "compilation" for the Florida Constitution is unlike that of the federal constitution. When the Florida Constitution is amended the official text of the document is edited, removing language that is no longer in force.

However, the constitution usually includes history notes appended to the sections indicating when parts of it were amended. However, sections that were a part of the 1968 revision do not contain history notes prior to 1968. The section, indexes, headings, and notes are considered editorial features and not part of the Constitution per se.

Amendment process

In the Florida Constitution there exist five ways that the Constitution can be amended:

  • By the Florida Legislature, with a three-fifths vote of the membership of both houses.
  • By a Constitutional Revision Commission, consisting of 37 members (the Florida Attorney General, 15 members selected by the Governor of Florida (who will also designate the chair), nine members selected by the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, nine members selected by the President of the Florida Senate, and three members selected by the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court with the advice of the other Justices). The Committee initially met in 1977, met again in 1997, and is to meet every 20 years thereafter to consider and propose amendments.[6]
  • By the Taxation and Budget Commission, consisting of 25 members (eleven members selected by the Governor, seven members selected by the Speaker of the Florida House, and seven members selected by the President of the Florida Senate; none of the members can be a member of the Legislature at the time of selection). In addition the Commission shall have four ex officio members who are members of the Legislature, two selected by the House Speaker and two by the Senate President; both the Speaker and President must select one of its ex officio members from the minority party. The Committee initially met in 2007 and is to meet every 20 years thereafter to consider and propose amendments.
  • By voter initiative, and after a simple majority approval by voters in an election, to call a Constitutional Convention to consider and propose amendments.
  • By voter initiative, as a proposed amendment to appear on the ballot (limited to a single subject).

Amendment approval

Except as noted below, all amendments proposed, regardless of the method of amendment, must be approved by 60 percent of the voters in a referendum held simultaneously with the next general election (that is, the next one at least 90 days after the amendment is filed with the custodian of state records) before they become a part of the Constitution.

  • Amendments involving creation of "new State taxes or fees" require a two-thirds approval of the voters.
  • The Florida Legislature, via a three-fourths majority, may pass a law calling for a special election date on any amendment (again, which must be 90 days after the amendment is filed with the custodian of state records).

Notable amendments

Many diverse, and sometimes controversial amendments, have been proposed to the Florida Constitution over the years. From modifications to the amendment process itself, to parental notification of a minor's intent to terminate a pregnancy, to minimum wage increases, to limiting cruel and inhumane confinement of pigs during pregnancy.

High speed rail amendment

On the November 5, 2000 general election, voters approved a citizens initiative referendum to amend the Florida Constitution to require the construction of a statewide high speed rail system connecting all of the state's major cities. The rail system would likely run alongside the state's interstate system, and would likely be similar to those found in Japan and other locales.

However, in 2004, the amendment was removed from the constitution via another ballot referendum. Governor Jeb Bush and some other legislators pushed for the inclusion of the ballot item to remove the amendment, claiming the rail network would be too costly to build. Jeb Bush however claims that he is not opposed to the eventual construction of such a system, but that it should be managed by the Florida Department of Transportation. Proponents dispute the claim that the cost would be too high and say the presented cost estimates were highly exaggerated.[citation needed]

Article XII: "Schedule"

This article provides a transition between the 1885 and 1968 Constitutions.


External links

  • Florida's Early Constitution The Florida Constitutions of 1838, 1861, 1865, 1868, and 1885 are available with transcripts and digitized images of the original documents. From the State Library & Archives of Florida
  • Florida's Constitution The current Constitution, From Florida Legislature Website

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