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Florida's early constitutions
The 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 of 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.
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 of 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 contributing to the disenfranchisement of blacks (and many poor whites as well).
Ratification of the current 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.
Provisions of the current Florida Constitution
- See also: Preambles to state constitutions
The Preamble to the Florida Constitution says:
- We, the people of the State of Florida, being grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty, in order to secure its benefits, perfect our government, insure domestic tranquility, maintain public order, and guarantee equal civil and political rights to all, do ordain and establish this constitution.
The Florida Constitution begins with a Declaration of Rights, which is similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights but, like most state bills of rights, is broader than the federal version. Among other things, the Florida Constitution guarantees trial by jury, due process, freedom of the press and of religion. It also forbids, among other things, the passage of ex post facto laws and cruel and unusual punishment.
Section 6 guarantees workers' right-to-work (though right to work laws are common in southern US states where unions are not strong, only Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Arizona have similar constitutional provisions).
Section 26 contains a unique provision regarding awards in medical liability claims, whereby in any contingency fee arrangement the claimant is entitled to 70% of the first $250,000 of award and 90% of any amount exceeding $250,000.
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 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 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.
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 offices rather than appointed.
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.
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 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 covers local government, distinguishing between charter counties and non-charter counties. Two key distinctions are set forth therein:
- 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.
- Municipal laws over-ride inconsistent laws passed by non-charter counties; for chartered counties, the charter itself will determine which law governs.
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 State 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.
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 an odd 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.
Section 26 requires the automatic revocation of any medical license where the provider has committed three or more incidents of medical malpractice.
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.
This article provides a transition between the 1885 and 1968 Constitutions.
- See also: Amending state constitutions
There are more paths to amending the Florida Constitution than are available in any other state. Article XI specifies these different methods:
- Section 1 says that the Florida Legislature can put a proposed amendment on the ballot if 60% or more of the legislators in each chamber agree to do so in a joint resolution.
- Section 2 says that starting 30 days before the 2017 session of the state legislature convenes, and every 20 years thereafter, a Florida Constitution Revision Commission shall meet. It can recommend proposed amendments or revisions, which will go on a statewide ballot.
- Section 3, with some limits, grants the people the right to initiated constitutional amendments.
- Section 4 grants the people the right to put a question on the ballot as to whether a convention shall be called. The question asked is, "Shall a constitutional convention be held?" (In order to put that question on the ballot, more signatures need to be collected than are required to qualify a standard initiated constitutional amendment for the ballot.)
- Section 6 establishes the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which can decide on proposed constitutional amendments to go before the people. It meets every 20 years starting in 2007.
Except as noted below, all amendments proposed, regardless of the method of amendment, must be approved by 60 percent of the voters in an election 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).
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 and minimum wage increases, which appeared on the 2004 ballot.
High speed rail amendment
On the November 5, 2000 general election, voters approved the Monorail Initiative, amending the Florida Constitution to require the construction of a statewide high speed rail system connecting all of the state's major cities.
- The current Florida Constitution
- Florida's Early Constitution The Florida Constitutions of 1838, 1861, 1865, 1868, and 1885.