Florida State Constitution
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. Search and seizure and cruel and unusual punishment protections 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 one denotes the official state boundaries.
Section two denotes basic rights.
Section three prescribes for separation of powers.
Section seven mandates that those living in the Everglades Protection Area, who cause water pollution, will be primarily responsible for its remediation.
Section nine 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 it.
Section six 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.
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 municipal and county government, and distinguishes between charter counties and non-charter counties. Two key distinctions are set forth therein:
- Counties may enact any ordinance that is not inconsistent with general or special state law. In charter counties, a governing special law can be one passed by the county’s voters, provided it is not inconsistent with general state law. In non-charter counties, a governing special law must be one passed by the state legislature.
- Municipal ordinances override inconsistent ordinances passed by non-charter counties; for chartered counties, the charter itself will determine which ordinance governs when there is a conflict.
Section 1 of this Article also establishes the following elected county officers for terms of four years:
- Tax Collector
- Property Appraiser
- Supervisor of Elections
- Clerk of Court
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 4, 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 is 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 the 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 the 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 about the limitations on marine net fishing.
Section 20 contains the constitution prohibition against smoking in all 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, re-enacted as “Amendment 7,” regards a patient’s right to discover records related to adverse medical incidents
Section 26 required 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. The Division of Statutory Revision within the Office of Legislative Services is responsible for codifying new amendments and removing obsolete language.
However, the constitution usually includes history notes appended to the sections indicating when parts of it were amended, except that sections which 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, and thus do not convey any rights.
The Florida Constitution provides five methods for proposing amendments:
- By the Florida Legislature, with a three-fifths vote of the membership of both houses.
- By the Constitution Revision Commission, which is established every 20 years to consider and propose amendments (the Commission first met in 1977 and again in 1997; the next scheduled meeting is in 2037). The Commission consists of 37 members: the Florida attorney general, 15 members selected by the governor of Florida (who also designates 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.
- By the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which is established every 20 years to consider and propose amendments (the Commission first met in 2007; the next scheduled meeting is in 2027). The Commission consists of 25 members: 11 members selected by the governor, seven members selected by the Speaker of the Florida House, and seven members selected by the Leader of the Florida Senate; however, none of the members can be a member of the Legislature at the time of selection). In addition, the Commission has 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.
- By a constitutional convention, which is called by the simple majority approval of a voter initiative asking for a convention.
- By voter initiative, as a proposed amendment to appear on the ballot. By law, any such amendment 1) is limited to a single subject, 2) must include a ballot title not to exceed 15 words in length, 3) must also include a ballot summary not to exceed 75 words in length, and 4) must further include a financial impact statement not to exceed 75 words in length..
Except as noted below, all amendments proposed, regardless of the method of proposal, 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. Previously, the ballot initiatives required only a simple majority (more than 50%) to be approved. A 2006 amendment raised the required threshold to a supermajority (60%).
Amendments involving the creation of “new State taxes or fees” require a two-thirds approval of the voters.
The 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. Some of these include modifications to the amendment process itself, parental notification of a minor’s intent to terminate a pregnancy, minimum wage increases, and even limits on cruel and inhumane confinement of pigs during pregnancy.
Right to privacy
Article I, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution provides:
Right of privacy. — Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein. This section shall not be construed to limit the public’s right of access to public records and meetings as provided by law.
This provision was proposed during the 1978 Constitutional Revision Commission by Chief Justice Overton of the Florida Supreme Court. It was put to the electorate by the Commission as part of a package of provisions in a single amendment, which failed. In 1980, the Florida Legislature, believing there was significant public interest in this provision, passed a resolution placing the provision as a single amendment on the 1980 general election that was approved by voters, becoming a part of the Florida Constitution.: 25, 34–35
The provision extends to the private lives of all natural persons, including minors, but only protects them from intrusion by government, not private individuals or corporations.: 26, 35–36 It affords more protection than the right to privacy under the Federal Constitution.: 41 Like most rights, it is not unlimited, but state courts use the “compelling state interest” standard of review which looks at whether the government has a compelling interest for any actions implicating this right.: 38 For example, while individuals may possess obscene materials in their homes, there is no right to privacy to patronize retail establishments selling such material. The Florida Supreme Court has also decided that using one’s real property in violation of legitimate environmental protection laws is not protected by this provision, as there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in such use.: 36 The clause “except as otherwise provided herein” ensures that the provision does not impair law enforcement activities under Article I, Section 12 on searches and seizures, which is interpreted in parallel with the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.: 36
Case law invoking this provision is divided into two main categories: personal autonomy and disclosure of information.: 38 The provision guarantees individual the right to refuse life-saving medical treatment, food, and water—but does not give individuals a right to physician-assisted suicide—and protects the right to receive an abortion. In contrast, the Florida Supreme Court has held that the state has a compelling interest in compelling applicants for the state bar association to provide mental health records and that a municipality that was self-insured for healthcare benefits could require job applicants to disclose whether they smoke at home.: 39–40
High-speed rail amendment
On the November 5, 2000 general election, voters approved a citizens’ initiative referendum to amend the Florida Constitution that would require the construction of a Florida high-speed corridor statewide 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, claimed that he was 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.
In the wake of the project’s cancellation, a private sector express passenger service running across much of the proposed route was proposed by the Florida East Coast Railway. This project, Brightline, began operations in early 2018.