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Senate panel temporarily pulls plug on school board term limit bill

Dennis Baxley’s measure calls for statewide vote to bind all districts.

A bill that would impose term limits on local school board members stalled in a Senate panel on Wednesday.

Baxley

Sen. Dennis Baxley’s bill (SJR 274) proposes a constitutional amendment on the question, requiring a statewide approval of 60% to be added to the state’s governing document.

But the need for a statewide vote on a matter affecting county elected officials continues to complicate discourse. The bill was temporarily postponed in the Rules Committee, a procedural move that often suggests a measure does not have the needed votes.

Critics of the bill said it’s not fair to make every county school district adhere to 8-year school board limits if the measure were to pass at the ballot.

Rich Templin, legislative director for the Florida AFL-CIO, argued that would inevitably prove unjust. If 70 percent of Leon County voters reject term limits but most South Florida residents support them, Leon still will have to impose the restriction, he said.

Templin suggested lawmakers would be wiser instead to offer an amendment letting county school districts hold referenda on term limits.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, asked if the AFL-CIO would drop opposition if Senators instead considered holding a vote in every county in 2020, and having each county bound only by the local vote.

Templin said he would need to consult with members before speaking for the organization: “But that would certainly make more sense to me,” he said.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and former Leon County Schools Superintendent, argued against term limits, saying voters already have the opportunity every four years to turn over school board members.

Supporters noted a Columbia County School Board member who has served for 40 years. Keith Hudson was first elected there in 1976 and won re-election in 2016.

Montford wasn’t swayed by that argument.

“If someone wants to serve on one of our local school boards for 40 years and the voters want (him) there, I say we applaud him and double his salary,” Montford said.

After the bill was discussed, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo asked for the bill to be postponed to a later date.

The bill must get through Rules before a floor vote. Companion legislation (HJR 229) has already cleared all its committees and awaits a vote by the full House.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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