Why does the Florida Constitution matter, anyway?
Think of the Florida Constitution as your contract with the government. Just as with any other contract, you would not want the terms changed without your knowledge or consent. Consider an employment contract, for example. This type of contract specifies your working conditions, benefits and allowable time off, as well as the hours you are expected to work and your job duties. If that contract is changed, it could significantly impact your job and your life. Similarly, your rights and the duties of your government could be impacted by the CRC. That’s why it’s so important that you closely follow the constitution revision process.
Learn more about the Florida Constitution Revision Commission here.
The Florida Constitution
Like the U.S. Constitution, the state constitution is intended to be a limited document. The Florida Constitution outlines the rights of residents and the responsibilities of the state government. Article 1 contains our Declaration of Rights, and the 27 subsequent sections outline basic rights such as religious freedom, freedom of speech and right of privacy — to name just a few.
Articles 3, 4 and 5 outline the respective duties and guidelines of the legislative, executive and judicial branches — from how the governor and legislators are elected to the organization of the court system.
The Florida Constitution and its amendments establish a lasting framework for government and rights, since it is not easily changed. In contrast, the Florida Statutes (or state laws) are the place for specific or time-limited policies, since they can be updated annually by the Florida Legislature.
Updating and Changing the Florida Constitution
Part of the enduring success of the U.S. Constitution is that it is so difficult to change. Beyond the essential Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution has been changed only 17 times over the course of more than two centuries. There are only two ways to amend the U.S. Constitution — a proposal by Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate, or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures (which has never been used).
Did you know? The Florida Constitution can be amended in more ways than any other state constitution.
By contrast, the Florida Constitution can be amended in five different ways — the CRC is just one of those:
- Ballot Initiative
- Constitutional Convention
- Constitution Revision Commission
- Legislative Joint Resolution
- Tax and Budget Reform
Just because there are so many ways to amend our state’s constitution doesn’t mean that we should amend it freely and often. In fact, in 2006 Floridians voted to make our constitution even harder to amend, requiring that 60 percent of voters approve an amendment for it to be adopted. Before 2006, a proposed constitutional amendment needed only a 50 percent popular vote to be adopted. In considering proposed amendments, it’s helpful to think about whether the constitution is the right place for them — even if they seem like good ideas.
CIVICS CRASH COURSE
The framers of our U.S. Constitution established three separate but equal branches of government to limit the power of government and protect our rights. They outlined the role of each branch in the U.S. Constitution and created a system of checks and balances, all designed to help make sure each branch could check and limit the power of the other branches, protecting against tyranny.
Our Florida Constitution establishes a state government structure with this model in mind. In Florida, the executive, legislative and judicial branches are established in the state constitution, but with roles that relate specifically to the state rather than to the federal government. As you consider proposed amendments next year, it’s important to ensure that the balance of power among the branches of government is preserved and not impaired by any changes.
- Legislative branch > drafts the laws
- Executive branch > enforces the laws
- Judicial branch > interprets and applies the law
The judicial branch plays an important role in protecting our rights. The judicial branch cannot pass laws (the legislative branch does that) and cannot enforce laws (the executive branch does that); it can only interpret and apply the laws.
Nearly half of Floridians wrongly attributed the role of the executive branch (enforcing the law) to the judicial branch in a Breakthrough Research survey of Florida voters.
It is the judicial branch that makes sure our rights are protected. With our constitution open to revision, we must watch out for amendments that undermine the role or power of the judiciary. In fact, any amendments that displace power from one branch to another are a threat to the democratic process and can throw off the balance of power.
While you’re thinking about proposed constitutional revisions, ask yourself: Does this amendment impact the balance of power among the three branches?
To learn more about civics and Florida government, check out these civics benchmark lessons from The Florida Bar:
Benchmark activities in this category include a primer on the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission and how citizens can become involved; testing participants’ basic knowledge about the structure and function of the government; as well as an examination of voting practices historically and currently in the United States.
Constitution and the Bill of Rights
Activities in this category examine methods of amending Florida’s Constitution and the limited role the courts have in that process; the method by which a judge would weigh a law whose constitutionality is being challenged; the rights included in the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution; and an exploration of the courts and the Constitution through a case study.
Courts and the Judicial Branch
Benchmark activities in this category include how judges approach making their rulings and the factors they must consider; how judges are elected in Florida and how Florida’s merit selection/retention process works; and the role of juries.
Protectors of Democracy Posters
Check out these downloadable, print-ready posters featuring Protectors of Democracy. We recommend sharing these files with a professional printer for the best quality poster (161.4 mb).
How a CRC Proposal Becomes an Amendment
Glossary of Terms & FAQ
Let’s face it: It’s been awhile since most of us took a civics class. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you better understand terms that relate to our government structure during this important time. Download a printer-friendly glossary of terms to take with you to public hearings or to share with friends. Here’s to being an informed and educated voter!
The Role of the Florida Bar
The Florida Bar created a special committee to advise the CRC with legal expertise in the form of white papers on specific proposals. The white papers are linked below.
- Proposal 03 – Possession of Real Property by Aliens – Martinez
- Proposal 06 – Creates Section 21 of Art V – Martinez
- Proposal 17 – Homestead Exemptions – Gaetz
- Proposal 28 – Funding, Clerk of the Circuit Courts – Coxe
- Proposal 30 – Basic Rights, Disability – Martinez
- Proposal 40 – Children Dependency Proceedings – Keiser
- Proposal 42 – Composition of JNC’s – Schifino
- Proposal 67 – Greyhound Racing – Lee
- Proposal 75 – Confinement of Children – Martinez
- Proposal 81 – Access to Public Records and Meetings – Heuchan (Appellate)
- Proposal 81 – Access to Public Records and Meetings – Heuchan (Trial)
- Proposal 88 – Assisted Living Facilities – Heuchan
- Proposal 99 – Patients’ Rights – Cerio