Florida's Constitutional Government

A constitution is a plan that provides the rules for government. Constitutions set out ideas that people believe in and share. They also establish the basic structures of government and define the government's powers and duties. The Founders created the Constitution of the United States more than 200 years ago.

Every state also has a constitution. As the basic law of the state, the Constitution of Florida is supreme above all other laws made within Florida. At the same time, the state constitution cannot contain provisions that clash with the United States Constitution.

The opening section of the Florida Constitution, the Preamble, tells why the Constitution was written. These carefully chosen words make clear that the power of the government comes from the people:

"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."
      —Preamble to the Florida Constitution, 1968

The Florida Constitution outlines the framework of the state government. The Constitution establishes the structure for the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.

Seal of Florida

The Legislative Branch
The legislative branch of the State of Florida makes the laws that govern our state. The Florida Legislature is divided into two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Members of the Florida Legislature are elected by the citizens of Florida to represent them and the area in which they live. These areas are called districts. The 120 members of the House are elected to two-year terms. The 40 members of the Senate are elected to four-year terms. Members must be at least 21 years old and live in the district they represent. Each member must be a resident of Florida for two years before running for election.

The Senate and the House share equally the power of making laws. Neither may pass a bill without the other. A member of either house may introduce a bill, or a proposed law. If the two houses pass differing versions of the same bill, it goes to a conference committee, which works to reach an agreement. Both houses must approve a bill and the governor must sign it before it becomes a law.

The Executive Branch

Organization of Florida's Constitution

The responsibility of the executive branch of Florida's state government is to see that the laws are faithfully carried out. The governor is the head of the executive branch. The governor is elected for a four-year term and may serve two terms in succession. The Constitution of 1968 established another position in the executive branch: the lieutenant governor. The lieutenant governor is elected as the running mate of the governor and performs any duties assigned by the governor.

The Florida Constitution also calls for an independently elected cabinet. The Cabinet consists of the attorney general, the chief financial officer, and the commissioner of agriculture. Members of the Cabinet are elected for four-year terms.

The structure of Florida's executive branch is unique. In most state governments, the cabinet acts as an adviser to the governor. Florida's cabinet officers sit as equals to the governor in many respects. The Florida executive branch operates similarly to a board of directors, with the governor acting as chairperson of the board.
Florida's Governors

The Judicial Branch
Florida's judicial branch—a system of courts—interpret and apply the laws. Each court has certain powers of jurisdiction, which means that each court has a certain amount of power to decide cases. The highest state court is the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court must review cases where the death penalty has been imposed. The Court also reviews decisions of appeals courts and interprets the state's constitution and laws. Except for cases involving federal law or the United States Constitution, the decisions of the Florida Supreme Court are final. The seven justices that serve on the Florida Supreme Court are appointed by the governor, but must stand for election every six years.

Most of the trial court decisions that are appealed are not heard by the Florida Supreme Court. Most of these appeals are heard by the district courts of appeal. These appeals courts have the power to review decisions made by trial courts. Appeals courts do not have juries. Instead, a panel of judges decides cases by a majority vote. If the judges feel that the defendant did not have a fair trial, they can decide to overturn the lower court's decision.

Circuit courts are the state's highest trial courts. Circuit courts hear cases involving felonies—major criminal offenses—which can result in imprisonment in a state institution. Circuit courts also hear civil cases involving amounts greater than $15,000. Florida is divided into 20 judicial circuits.

The Florida Constitution establishes a county court in each of the state's 67 counties. County Courts hear misdemeanor cases (criminal offenses punishable by up to one year in county jail), violations of county and municipal ordinances, traffic matters, and some civil actions. County judges are elected within each county for a six-year term.

Comparing State Government