Amending the Florida Constitution
There are a number of ways to amend our state Constitution. In fact, there are more paths to amending the Florida Constitution than are available in any other state. The five methods are laid out in Article XI, labeled Amendments. Citizens will want to pay particular attention to the Constitutional Revision Commission, which will meet again in 2017.
Amendments Proposed by the Legislature
Per Section 1, the State 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. The amendment will be presented for voter approval on the next general election ballot more than 90 days after the joint resolution is adopted.
Constitution Revision Commission
Section 2 provides for the Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years for the purpose of reviewing Florida’s Constitution and proposing changes for voter consideration. The Commission meets for about one year, traveling the State of Florida, identifying issues, performing research and possibly recommending changes to the Constitution, which go on the next general election ballot at least 180 days after the Commission makes its recommendations. The last comprehensive review of Florida’s Constitution occurred in 1997-1998. The next one is coming up in 2017.
The commission consists of 37 members, which include: the Attorney General, 15 members chosen by the Governor, 9 members chosen by the Speaker of the House, 9 members chosen by the President of the Senate and 3 members selected by the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court (with the advice of the justices). The Governor designates one member as commission chair, and any vacancies are filled the same way as the original appointments.
Section 3, with some limits, grants Florida citizens the right to initiate constitutional amendments. To amend the Constitution by citizen initiative, proponents must form a political committee, register with the Division of Elections and then create a petition. After the Division of Elections reviews and approves the petition, supporters must demonstrate that there’s sufficient popular support for their measure to merit certification by the Secretary of State. To qualify for the ballot, proponents must collect signatures from registered voters equal to at least 8% of the total number of statewide votes cast in the previous Presidential election, and the signatures must be from at least 13 of Florida’s 25 Congressional districts. Additionally at least 10% of the total number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot must be gathered from at least seven Congressional districts
Once signatures are validated by the Supervisors of Elections, the SECSTATE certifies the petition for Florida Supreme Court review. If the Court approves, the initiative is qualified to go on the ballot for the next general election. Of note, Florida has a very strict single-subject rule, requiring each initiative to address just one subject (except amendments limiting the power of government to raise revenue, which are exempted from the single-subject restriction). While initiative petitions may circulate indefinitely, a voter’s signature is only valid for four years from the date it was signed. After the proposed amendment qualifies for the ballot, a financial impact statement is developed and included on the ballot, if applicable.
Section 4 grants the people the right to put a question on the ballot as to whether a constitutional convention shall be called. To place a call for a convention on the ballot, proponents must collect signatures from registered voters equal to 15% of the total number of statewide ballots cast in the previous Presidential election, and follow the same signature validation/certification process as for a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment.
After sufficient signatures have been certified, the question "Shall a constitutional convention be held?" will be submitted to voters at the next general election more than 90 days after the petition is filed. If approved by a simple majority, each state legislative district elects a member to the constitutional convention at the next succeeding general election, and the convention convenes in the capital 21 days later. The Convention must file any proposed constitutional revisions with the custodian of state records no later than 90 days before the next succeeding general election.
Taxation & Budget Reform Commission (TBRC)
Section 6 establishes the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which may place proposed amendments on the ballot if 18 of its 25 members approve. Per Section 6 the TBRC examines “the state budgetary process, the revenue needs and expenditure processes of the state, the appropriateness of the tax structure of the state, and governmental productivity and efficiency.” It last met in 2007, and will reconvene every 20 years thereafter. (Note: Only a single recommendation of the 2007–08 TBRC actually made it onto the 2008 ballot, and voters rejected it.) Proposed constitutional revisions must be submitted no later than 180 days before the general election in the second year following the commission's establishment.
The commission includes 11 members chosen by the Governor, 7 members chosen by the Speaker of the House and 7 members chosen by the President of the Senate, none of whom may be members of the legislature when appointed. There are also four non-voting ex officio members who are members of the legislature at the time of appointment. The Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate each choose two of these members, one of whom must be a member of the minority party in their chamber. The commission elects its own chair, who cannot be a member of the legislature, and vacancies are filled the same way as the original appointments.
Constitutional amendments must be approved by at least 60% of voters in order to pass. If an amendment is approved, it takes effect in January following the election, unless the amendment specifies otherwise. Until 2006, only a simple majority vote was required to approve a new amendment to the Florida Constitution. On November 7, 2006, Floridians passed Amendment 3 (proposed by the Legislature), which increased the required percentage for an amendment to be accepted into the constitution to 60%.