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Florida Senate committee advances school board term limit proposal

'They work," sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley says of term limits.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, explains his rationale for seeking 8-year term limits for Florida school board members during a committee meeting on March 12, 2019. [The Florida Channel]
Published Mar. 12

Attempts to limit school board members to two consecutive four-year terms — an idea that was removed from the November 2018 ballot by the Florida Supreme Court — could be headed to voters in 2020.

Citing the need to regularly infuse fresh ideas into the decision-making process, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, urged his colleagues on the Ethics and Elections Committee to support SJR 274.

“This is an issue I’ve actually evolved on,” Baxley said. “I’ve always taken a position that the people decide.”

What convinced him, he explained, was a meeting with a lawmaker from another state where term limits do not exist.

“He had been in his seat for 40 years,” Baxley said, adding that the lawmaker had chaired the state’s banking and finance committee for 15 of those years. “Can you imagine if you had a great idea and this guy didn’t like you? ... That became very symbolic.”

Statesmanship, leadership and experience are important, he said. But allowing for a rotation of elected officials is “right,” he said. “People want this.”

Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, attempted to amend the proposal to allow for three four-year terms. After hearing a chorus of “eight is enough,” Powell withdrew his amendment. He joined the minority in opposing the resolution, which narrowly passed.

“After serving the time I’ve served, I’m more well prepared ... to tackle a lot of the broad depth of issues we address today than I was in 2012,” Powell said, arguing that experience matters.

He also contended that the decision on term limits should be left to local voters, and not decided at the state level.

That was a position staked out by some public speakers, including Rich Templin of the AFL-CIO. Templin put forth that the voters of Collier County should not decide how a local school board should operate for the voters of Leon County.

He advocated changing the proposed ballot referendum to have voters decide whether local school districts may hold term limit elections independently.

Nick Tomboulides of U.S. Term Limits pushed back against that idea, noting that the state government is made up of representatives based on the size of communities, and Miami-Dade County has more lawmakers than does Liberty County. To argue for each to decide for itself is akin to saying there’s no need for a state, Tomboulides said, encouraging the panel to adopt the resolution and move ahead with the term limits push.

Speakers were largely divided on the topic.

Some said school board members already face term limits in the form of their reelection bids. Voters can choose whether to send them back, and they don’t always do so. In 2018, 18 percent of incumbent school board members did not seek reelection, while another 9 percent lost their bids for another term.

Others took the position that incumbency carries unfair advantages, and that board members should be able to accomplish what they set out to do in eight years and then leave.

The committee advanced the proposal along party lines. A House companion won unanimous approval at its first stop.

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