Government of Florida

Government of Florida

The Government of the State of Florida is established and operated according to the Florida Constitution. The State of Florida is a democratic constitutional republic. The Florida Constitution defines the basic structures and operation of the government, its duties, responsibilities, and powers, and establishes the basic law of the state and guarantees various rights and freedoms of the people.

The State of Florida is a member of the United States of America, and is a U.S. state. The United States is a federation, and as such it retains exclusive authority over legal and law enforcement matters that lie within the states borders, except as limited by the Constitution of the United States.

Power in Florida is divided among three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. The state delegates non-exclusive power to local municipal and county governments. However, home-rule charters can be established which provide significant local autonomy over the structure and operation of those governments.

The state capital of Florida is Tallahassee. In the downtown area of the city is located the Florida State Capitol building, which houses the executive and legislative offices as well as the state's legislative chambers.

Legislative branch

The Florida Constitution mandates a bicameral state legislature, consisting of a Florida Senate of 40 members and a Florida House of Representatives of 120 members. The two bodies meet in the Florida State Capitol.

Florida's legislature is a part-time legislature, meeting for 60-day regular sessions annually. The regular session of the Florida Legislature commences on the first Tuesday in March with the Governor's State of the State speech before a joint session and ends on the first Friday in May. The Florida Legislature often meets in special sessions, sometimes as many as a half dozen in a year, that are called for particular purposes, such as budget reduction or reforming property insurance, by the governor or by agreement of the House speaker and Senate president. Outside of these regular and special sessions, the members of both houses participate in county delegation and legislative committee weeks throughout the year, mostly from November to February in advance of the regular session.

The Florida House of Representative members serve for two-year terms, while Florida Senate members serve for four-year terms. Members of both houses are term limited to serve a maximum of eight years.

Executive branch

The executive branch of the Government of Florida consists of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Florida Cabinet (which includes the Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture and Chief Financial Officer), and several executive departments. Each office is term limited to two four-year terms.


The Governor of Florida is the chief executive of the Government of Florida, and serves as chairman of the Florida Cabinet. The Governor has the power to execute Florida's laws and to call out the state militia to preserve the public peace, being Commander-in-Chief of the state's military forces that not in active service of the United States. At least once every legislative session, the Governor is required to deliver an address to the Florida Legislature, referred to as the "State of the State Address", regarding the condition and operation of the state government and to suggest new legislation. The Governor is elected by popular election every four years, and may serve a maximum of two terms. The 44th Governor of Florida is Charlie Crist, who was elected on November 7, 2006.


Florida is unique among U.S. states in having a strong cabinet-style government. Members of the Florida Cabinet are independently elected, and have equal footing with the Governor on issues under the Cabinet's jurisdiction. The Cabinet consists of the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Agriculture and the Chief Financial Officer. Along with the Governor, each member carries one vote in the decision making process. In the event of a tie, the side of the Governor is the prevailing side. Cabinet elections are held every four years, on even numbered years not divisible by four (such as 2002, 2006, etc.).

Attorney General

The Attorney General is the state's chief legal officer. As defined in the Florida Constitution, the Attorney General appoints a statewide prosecutor who may prosecute violations of criminal law occurring in or affecting two or more judicial circuits. The current Attorney General of Florida is Bill McCollum. He was elected to the position on November 7, 2006. He is responsible for the Department of Legal Affairs. [ [] , accessed May 21, 2008.]

Chief Financial Officer

The duties as defined under the Constitution of Florida of the Chief Financial Officer include monitoring the states finances and fiscal well being, auditing and assuring that state programs are properly spending money and overseeing the proper management of the revenue and spending of the state. The current Chief Financial Officer is Alex Sink, Democrat, who was elected on November 7, 2006.

Judicial branch

Florida's state court system (officially titled the Florida State Courts System) was unified by a constitutional amendment effective in early 1973. It consists of:
*The Florida Supreme Court, the state supreme court; and
*The five District Courts of Appeal, which are intermediate appellate courts. These are the First District Court of Appeal (headquartered in Tallahassee), the Second District Court of Appeal (headquartered in Lakeland and with a branch in Tampa), the Third District Court of Appeal (headquartered in Miami), the Fourth District Court of Appeal (headquartered in West Palm Beach), and the Fifth District Court of Appeal (headquartered in Daytona Beach); and
*Two forms of trial courts: 20 circuit courts and 67 county courts.

The Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court serves "ex officio" as the chief administrative officer. The Administrator of the Office of the State Courts in the capital, Tallahassee, assists the Chief Justice in administering the courts.

County courts have original jurisdiction over misdemeanor criminal cases and in civil cases whose value in controversy does not exceed $15,000. Circuit courts have original jurisdiction over felony criminal cases and civil cases whose value in controversy is $15,000 or greater, as well as in domestic relations, juvenile dependency, juvenile delinquency, and probate matters. Heavily-populated counties, such as Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach are often coterminous with their respective judicial circuits. In less-populated areas of the state, a single judicial circuit often encompasses multiple counties within its jurisdiction.

Chief judges of the District Courts of Appeals and of the circuit courts retain substantial authority over the day-to-day operation of their courts. The chief judges of the 20 circuit courts also supervise the judges of the county courts within their jurisdictions. The circuit and county courts are where trials occur.

The right to a single appeal to one of the District Courts of Appeal is guaranteed in most circumstances. Further appeals to the Florida Supreme Court are available only in limited circumstances. Supreme Court decisions and case law are binding upon all Florida courts. The decisions and case law precedent of each District Courts of Appeal are binding upon all circuit and county courts within its jurisdiction. Case law and decisions from another District Court of Appeal are persuasive and often cited within the courts of other appellate districts, but are not binding precedent in those other districts. In the event of conflict between the precedent of different District Courts of Appeal, county and circuit courts must adhere to the case law of their own district. District courts of appeal may recede from certain case law and precedent in subsequent decisions, or the Supreme Court may override a district court's precedent in favor of conflicting case law from another district.

Local governments

Local governments are established by the Government of Florida and are given varying amounts of non-exclusive authority over their jurisdictions. The law governing the creation of these governments is contained both within the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes. Local governments are incorporated in Florida by special acts of the Florida Legislature. There are two general types of local governments in Florida: county governments and municipal governments. Both forms of local government may have a legislative branch (commissions or councils) and executive branch (mayor or manager), but only counties have a court system. Counties and municipalities are authorized to pass laws (ordinances), levy taxes, and provide public service within their jurisdictions. All areas of Florida are located within a county, but only some areas have been incorporated into municipalities. All municipalities are located within a county and the county jurisdiction overlays the municipal jurisdiction. Usually, if there is a conflict between a county oridance and a muncipal ordiance, the municipal ordinance has precedence within the municipality's borders (unless the overlaying county has been designed by the Florida Legislature as a charter county). Dye, T.R., Jewett, A. & MacManus, S.A. (2007) "Politics in Florida". Tallahassee: John Scott Dailey Florida Institute of Government.]

Municipalities in Florida may be called towns, cities, or villages, but there is no legal distinction between the different terms. Municipalities often have police departments, fire departments, and provide essential services such as water, waste collection, etc. In unincorporated areas of a county, the county itself provides these services. Municipalities may also enter agreements with the county to have the county provide certain services. Each county has a sheriff who also tends to have concurrent jurisdiction with municipal police departments.

In some cases, such as Jacksonville, the municipal and county governments have merged into a consolidated government. In Jacksonville, the municipal government has taken over the responsibilities normally given to the county government, Duval County in this case. However, smaller municipal governments can be created inside of a consilidated municipality/county, as which has happened in Jacksonville.


[ [] , accessed May 21, [2008] .]

Department of Business and Professional Regulation

*Florida Real Estate Commission

Department of Corrections

The governor appointed Walter A. McNeil as Secretary of the Department (DC) in 2007. [ [] ] The department is the third largest prison system in the United States with approximately 94,000 persons incarcerated and another 153,000 on some form of community supervision. [ [] ]

The DC has 137 facilities statewide, including 60 prisons, 41 work/forestry camps, one treatment center, 30 work release centers and five road prisons. Six of Florida's prisons are run by private companies. It employs over 27,000 people, three quarters of which are certified as either corrections or probation officers. [ [] ]

Department of Education

The Department is headed by the Commissioner of Education. The current Commissioner is Eric J. Smith, who was appointed to the position in 2007. [ [ Florida Department of Education] ]

Division of Emergency Management

The Florida Division of Emergency Management is responsible for planning for and responding to disasters, whether natural or man-made. The Division reports directly to the Office of the Governor.

Department of Environmental Protection

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is the state agency responsible for protecting Florida's air, water and land. FDEP is headquartered in the state capital, Tallahassee, and is divided into six districts (each district may have multiple branch offices).

The Florida Park Service is a division of FDEP.

Department of Financial Services

Alex Sink was elected as Florida's Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in 2006. As CFO, Sink oversees nearly 3,000 employees and an annual budget of $300 million in the Department of Financial Services. Her varied responsibilities include managing the state’s $24 billion in Treasury funds, serving as the State Fire Marshal, overseeing workers’ compensation and the state’s risk management programs, and licensing all insurance agents and investigating insurance fraud. [ [] ]

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is a Florida governmental organization created in 1999 with the purpose of regulating the environment and enforcing environmental legislation in the state of Florida. It combines the former offices of the Marine Fisheries Commission, Divisions of Marine Resources and Law Enforcement of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and all of the employees and Commissioners of the former Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, and is regulated by seven governor-appointed commissioners.

Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles

* Division of the Florida Highway Patrol

Department of Juvenile Justice

The current Secretary of the Department is Frank Peterman, Jr.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement

In 1967, the Florida Legislature merged the responsibilities of several state criminal justice organizations to create the Bureau of Law Enforcement. The Bureau began with 94 positions, headed by a Commissioner who reported to the Governor, certain Cabinet members, two Sheriffs, and one Chief of Police. In July 1969, after government restructuring, the Bureau became the Florida Department of Law Enforcement [ [ Florida Department of Law Enforcement] ] (FDLE).

Today, FDLE is headed by a Commissioner who is appointed by the Governor and approved by the Cabinet. Headquartered in Tallahassee, FDLE employs nearly 2,000 members statewide who work at the department’s seven Regional Operations Centers, 15 field offices and seven crime laboratories. The members of FDLE are guided by four fundamental values as they respond to the needs of Florida’s citizens and criminal justice community: service, integrity, respect, and quality.

FDLE is structured to deliver services in five program areas: Executive Direction and Business, Support Program, Criminal Investigations and Forensic Science Program, Florida Capitol Police Program, Criminal Justice Information Program, and Criminal Justice Professionalism Program. FDLE is one of the few state law enforcement agencies in the country to have earned triple accreditation. FDLE is accredited by the National Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, the American Society of Crime Lab Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board, and the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation.

Florida Lottery

The Florida Lottery was created in the 1980s to supplement educational funding. Florida will join the Powerball game in January 2009.

Department of State

One of the primary responsibilities of the Florida Department of State [ [ Florida Department of State] ] is maintaining the state's public records. The department is headed by the Secretary of State of Florida, currently Kurt S. Browning.

Department of Transportation

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is a decentralized agency charged with the establishment, maintenance, and regulation of public transportation in the state of Florida [1] . It was formed in 1969, absorbing the powers of the old State Road Department and Florida State Turnpike Authority, which became a district within the new FDOT. The current Secretary of Transportation is Stephanie Kopelousos.

Agency for Workforce Innovation

The [ Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation] (AWI) is responsible for implementing [ Workforce Florida, Inc.’s] policies. The agency receives federal funds for employment-related programs, such as Welfare to Work, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and the Workforce Investment Act, and distributes these funds to the state’s [ 24 regional workforce boards] . The agency also monitors regional workforce board and one-stop career center activities to ensure they comply with federal and state requirements. [ [ Florida Government Accountability Report] ]


Native American government

Native American peoples first entered Florida around 12,000 years ago. Thereafter, many civilisations arose in Florida, such as the Timucua, Tequesta, and Apalachee. Many of the civilisations were ruled by a chief, who would oversee the settlement. The Timucua consisted of many independent villages which were ruled over by a chief.

European colonial government

A colony was briefly established at Pensacola by the Spanish in 1559, but was abandoned after a hurricane in 1561. The French briefly established a colony at Fort Caroline in 1564 near the mouth of the St. Johns River, near present day Jacksonville.

The first permanent colonial government of Spanish Florida was established on August 28, 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who became the first Governor of Florida , with the founding of the first permanent Spanish settlement in Florida at St. Augustine, the capital of Spanish Florida, although Florida was originally claimed for Spain by Juan Ponce de León on April 2, 1513. This began a continuous line of established government which extends up until present day.

Florida was a British colony between 1763 and 1784. During the British period, Florida was subdivided into two colonies, West Florida, the capital of which was Pensacola, and East Florida, the capital of which was St. Augustine. Florida was returned to Spain in 1784, beginning the second Spanish Florida period.

United States membership

On July 10, 1821, as a part of the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, signed on February 22, 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the United States. Florida became a Territory of the United States until 1845. The capital of Florida was moved from St. Augustine to Tallahassee in 1824, by the Territory Legislature, which was chosen partly for its location between Pensacola and St. Augustine, as a compromise between them. The first constitution implemented as a U.S. territory was written in 1838, and Florida was granted admission into the union as a state on March 3, 1845.

Confederate States membership

Following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, Florida joined other Southern states in seceding from the Union. Secession took place January 10, 1861 and, after less than a month as an independent republic, Florida became one of the founding members of the Confederate States of America.


After meeting the requirements of Reconstruction, including ratifying amendments to the US Constitution, Florida was readmitted to the United States on July 25, 1868.


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