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Legislative Getting Started

STATE

A BRIEF OVERVIEW

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

The EXECUTIVE branch is the law-administering and law-enforcing branch of the government. It is patterned along the lines of a large corporation with the governor serving as chairman of the board and the three independently elected cabinet members serving as directors. The governor is elected for a four-year term and may serve two terms in succession. The lieutenant governor is elected as running mate of the governor. Members of the Cabinet are elected to four year terms and may succeed themselves for any number of terms. All of the many agencies and departments that are responsible for programs in Florida State government are also part of the Executive Branch.

The Governor is responsible for day-to-day operations of the state and is the chief law enforcement officer. The governor appoints not only the heads of departments under sole oversight of the governor, but also the heads of departments that are under both the governor and Cabinet's oversight, although at least three Cabinet members must agree to the appointments. The governor also appoints members of several regulatory boards and commissions.

By executive order, the governor may suspend from office any state or county elected official who is not subject to impeachment. The governor cannot suspend the lieutenant governor, Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, appellate judges, or circuit court judges. They can be removed only by legislative impeachment.

The office of Lieutenant Governor was authorized in the 1968 revision of the Constitution, but duties of that office were left to the discretion of the governor and the legislature. The only Constitutional chore of this office-holder is to become the governor should that office become vacant due to death, impeachment trial, or incapacity. The Lieutenant Governor is elected on the same ticket as governor and is chosen by the gubernatorial candidate as running mate.

Florida's Constitution states that in addition to a governor and lieutenant governor "there shall be a Cabinet composed of:

The Constitution declares that each Cabinet member "shall exercise such powers and perform such duties as may be prescribed by law." In effect, that gives the Cabinet officers powers equal to the governor. This system violates a basic rule of government. That is, giving an elected official the authority to perform a duty and then be officially fully responsible, for under this system the governor is held responsible but does not have the authority or means to fulfill that responsibility.
 

LEGISLATIVE BRANCH

The Legislative branch is the law-making branch and is composed of two houses - the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Legislature meets for a regular 60-day session each year. There may also be special and extended sessions if necessary.

The Senate and House affect every Floridian's life through legislation relating to how cities and counties operate, through appointment of state officials, through investigative and budgetary matters, and through taxes. The legislative branch is considered to be the most powerful of the state's three branches of government.

The SENATE has 40 members, each elected to a four year term. Half the senate members are elected every two years, providing for staggered terms. Senate districts are based on population with each senator representing approximately the same number of residents. To do so, some senators may represent only one county or a portion of a county, while another senator may represent multiple counties. The senate like the house is reapportioned every 10 years when the federal census is released.

The HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES has 120 members. All are elected every two years during the general elections held in even-numbered years. House districts are based on population with each member representing approximately the same number of residents. To do so, some members may represent only one county or a portion of a county, while another may represent multiple counties. The House like the Senate is reapportioned every 10 years when the federal census is released.

JUDICIAL BRANCH

The JUDICIAL branch is the law-interpreting branch. Its powers are exercised primarily through courts established by the State Constitution. Florida's judicial branch consists of a series of courts with differing levels of authority and jurisdictions. They are:

Supreme Court

This highest of state courts consists of seven members, each appointed by the governor, and confirmed by a vote of the people at the next general election. Each is appointed for a six-year term. Justices select one of their own to be the chief justice for a two-year term.

The Supreme Court hears appeals directly from trial courts in criminal cases when the death penalty has been imposed, and in civil cases when the trial court's decision passes on the validity of a state or federal law, a treaty , or a provision of the state or federal constitution or in cases concerning the validity of revenue or general obligation bonds. All other appeals must be processed through a district court of appeals.

District Court of Appeals

The state has five appellate districts. More than 50 judges sit on the five appeals courts, each elected to six-year staggered terms. They have jurisdiction of all appeals not directly appealable to the Supreme Court or to a circuit court. An appeals court also may issue writs of mandamus, certiorari, prohibition, quo warranto, and habeas corpus.

Circuit Court

The Circuit Court is the state's highest trial court, and has the most general jurisdiction. The state is divided into 20 judicial circuits and circuit judges are elected to six-year terms. In each circuit the judges choose from among themselves a chief judge of that circuit.

Circuit courts have exclusive original jurisdiction in all actions of law not vested in county courts, including all civil actions involving $2,500 or more. Circuit courts also cover:

    • estate settlement;
    • competency and involuntary hospitalization;
    • all cases in equity including those relating to juveniles except certain traffic offenses;
    • cases involving tax assessments or tolls, ejectment, and titles or boundaries or rights of possession of real property;
    • felonies or misdemeanors arising out of same circumstances as a felony; and
    • jurisdiction over all appeals from county courts.

County Court

At least one county court judge is specified for each county and is elected to a six-year term. County courts handle misdemeanor cases over which the circuit court has no authority, violations of municipal ordinances, and civil actions involving less than $2,500