Unique Law Lets Florida Voters Make Changes to Constitution State Provision Mandates a Constitutional Review Every 20 Years. Key Issues in 1998: Gun Control, Equal Rights

By Warren Richey, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Unique Law Lets Florida Voters Make Changes to Constitution State Provision Mandates a Constitutional Review Every 20 Years. Key Issues in 1998: Gun Control, Equal Rights


Warren Richey, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


A unique exercise in streamlined government is under way in Florida, where a special commission has just recommended 33 changes to the state's constitution - with many of the suggestions expected to ignite a firestorm of debate.

Some of the issues are common-sense housecleaning measures, like a proposal to ensure that only gender-neutral language is used in the state constitution. Others - like gun control and government reorganization - are so controversial that state legislators have avoided addressing them for years.

But now in 1998, Florida voters will have the opportunity to decide these issues for themselves. A provision of Florida's constitution mandates the appointment of a constitution revision commission every 20 years to take a fresh look at the state's No. 1 document and consider any changes. The 37-member commission examined hundreds of proposals during a series of hearings over the past year. Those proposals were narrowed down and packaged as nine different questions that will appear on the statewide ballot this November. While 15 other states also have mechanisms written into their constitutions to periodically ask voters whether a constitutional update should be considered, most have balked, turning down the prospect of electing constitutional conventions and voting on revisions. The Florida system is different. This is the only state in the country with an automatic review provision. Every 20 years a commission must be appointed, and it is up to the newly appointed commissioners to determine the scope of their work. "This idea of a regular look at the state constitution originates with Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to apply it to the Virginia state constitution, which he didn't think much of," says Robert Williams, a state constitutional law expert and law professor at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J. Jefferson believed "each generation ought to have a regular chance to look at the state constitution that governs it." No state has taken that philosophy to greater lengths than Florida, which ratified a new constitution in 1968, replacing one written in 1885. Need for change A quick glance at Florida's previous constitutions illustrates the importance of weeding out offensive constitutional concepts. Florida's first constitution, adopted 160 years ago, supported slavery and urged the Legislature to pass laws to prevent freed slaves "and other persons of color" from ever entering Florida. Bankers and "ministers of the gospel" were barred from running for the Legislature. And the constitution stated that only "free white men of this State shall have the right to keep and bear arms, for their common defense." Although few residents would disagree that the old constitutions needed to be revised, not everyone is happy with the prospect of an unelected commission proposing an unlimited number of constitutional amendments every 20 years. Critics of the revision process say it is too easy in Florida to change the constitution. Some say the job should be the exclusive work of the state Legislature because, as elected officials, they are accountable directly to voters.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Unique Law Lets Florida Voters Make Changes to Constitution State Provision Mandates a Constitutional Review Every 20 Years. Key Issues in 1998: Gun Control, Equal Rights
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?