Rep. Spencer Roach says it’s time for Florida to adopt an entirely new state constitution.
The North Fort Myers Republican participated in a legislative update last week with the Real Estate Investment Society (REIS) in Lee County. There, he proposed beginning the process of adopting a seventh constitution.
He suggested the number of times the current Florida Constitution has been changed since its adoption in 1968 shows the need to start fresh.
“It’s time,” he said. “The Florida Constitution has been amended 144 times in 55 years — that’s an average of five amendments every election cycle. Contrast that with the U.S. Constitution, which has only been amended 27 times in 235 years. To me, that indicates a deeply flawed document that has served its purpose but is in desperate need of revision.”
Of note, the current constitution has stood longer than many that preceded it. Florida’s first formal constitution was approved by Florida voters in 1838, according to Florida State University records. That lasted until Florida seceded from the Union in 1861 and adopted a new constitution under the Confederacy.
That document was annulled after the Civil War by President Andrew Johnson, when a third constitution was imposed. Florida adopted a fourth constitution during Reconstruction in 1868 that largely replaced many elected offices with appointed ones.
In 1885, Florida adopted a constitution that remains the longest lasting one in state history. That restored many elected offices but limited terms, and it allowed for multimember districts in the Legislature. That document lasted 83 years.
But in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, the state adopted a new constitution in 1968 that remains in effect today.
Roach, though, said the document has run its course. He first publicly called for a rewrite earlier this month on Twitter. After Secretary of State Cord Byrd posted a link to Florida’s original constitution in the state archives, Roach suggested that’s where Florida’s existing constitution should also be filed.
“It’s time for the 1968 constitution to join the original in the archives,” Roach posted. “We need a complete rewrite of the Florida Constitution.”
But what would the consequences of a rewrite be?
Roach said the Republican Legislature would be wise to start a rewrite of the constitution while the party holds historic caucuses in the House and Senate. But he notes anything will ultimately have to be approved through a statewide vote.
“Yes, it will be controversial, but we have a supermajority and we need to act now,” Roach said.
“Besides, any new constitution will have to be ratified by the voters, and if they disapprove it, we are back to the status quo — so we have nothing to lose by trying to improve the document. Things like term limits and setting boundaries on executive powers should be in the constitution, and I also think we need to revisit the structure of the Florida Legislature.”
But what of those amendments approved by voters over the past half century?
Roach told Florida Politics the new constitution may or may not include some or all the amendments previously approved by voters. Regardless, he believes implementing legislation enacting past amendments would remain in place unless the Florida Legislature repealed it.
But anything in the current constitution that’s left out of a new one would be null and void. That means the Legislature could repeal laws it was required to pass because it was mandated by the old constitution to do so, if that language isn’t in a new document.
Lawmakers have often expressed frustration with amendments to the constitution. The Legislature proposed an amendment on the 2022 statewide ballot to get rid of the Constitution Revision Commission, though that failed.
But the Legislature has enacted numerous restrictions on citizen-led efforts to change the constitution, a process that now requires a 60% supermajority of voters to support a measure on the statewide ballot.
Roach, for his part, believes he can sell leadership in the Legislature on undertaking the process of rewriting a constitution. He joked to REIS attendees he will simply personalize a pitch to House Speaker Paul Renner.
“I’ll simply ask him to imagine that for the next 100 years, Florida citizens would refer to their governing document as ‘the Renner Constitution.’”