Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper has ruled to dismiss the case brought by Pinellas County against a new statute that would put two of the Commission’s single-member seats up for election in 2022.
The ruling from Monday’s hearing sides with the state’s motion to dismiss the case, which was brought by the Board of County Commissioners. The lawsuit sought a preliminary injunction to block changes brought by a provision of a new election law.
The Board hoped to overturn a portion of one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ priority bills (SB 524), which he signed near the end of April. Several Commissioners felt the county was targeted by lawmakers, because the measure only affect Pinellas County.
The provision is folded into the new law which overhauls state election rules. It requires County Commissioners elected in single-member districts to run for re-election after decennial redistricting, including those elected in 2020. The proposal as written would uniquely impact Pinellas County, which alone meets the criteria under the legislation. It would require two Commissioners — Rene Flowers and Karen Seel — to run for re-election after only serving two years of a four-year term.
In the lawsuit, the county challenges the provision’s constitutionality on two grounds. First, the Board alleges the measure is an illegal bill of local application against the Florida Constitution, and second, that it applies retroactively by shortening the terms of already elected Commissioners.
“It shortens the four-year terms of two incumbent County Commissioners, who were duly elected by the electors to four-year terms in 2020,” the Board’s complaint reads.
The lawsuit drew criticism — and even additional legal challenges — from some Pinellas County officials.
Pinellas County Clerk of Court Ken Burke filed suit last Monday against Pinellas County over its litigation expenditures. Burke’s complaint argues the suit from the County Commission is an unlawful use of public funds. As the county Comptroller, Burke contends he has the ability to determine the legality of such expenditures.
“The Clerk believes it is most advantageous to obtain a declaration from the court regarding this question while the Leon County litigation is in its early stages so that if such expenditures be declared as not lawful, those persons who may individually have standing to challenge the new statutory language would have the ability to do so in a timely manner,” Burke’s complaint states.
The new election provision has also been the subject of tension between Pinellas County Commissioners and one state Representative.
During their meeting to determine whether or not to file suit, Commissioners not-so-subtly referenced state Rep. Chris Latvala, who previously confirmed to Florida Politics he will seek election to the Pinellas County Commission in the 2022 cycle after mulling a run for several months. The targeted language of the bill led several Commissioners to point to suspicion of the legislation’s intent, suggesting it would help the Pinellas County legislator run for Seel’s seat in 2022.
However, Latvala has fought back against such accusations. The lawmaker, who is not listed as a sponsor or co-sponsor of the committee bill, previously told Florida Politics the legislation has nothing to do with a potential run. He instead contended it just puts Pinellas County in line with most other Florida counties. Latvala also emphasized the bill was proposed last year too.
Latvala has criticized the lawsuit as “wasteful.” Pinellas Commissioner Kathleen Peters, who Latvala regards as a friend and a good lawmaker, voted against pursuing legal action along with Commissioner Dave Eggers, citing the risk of retaliation from the Governor.