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Florida school board term limits initiative stalls in Senate

The Rules Committee postpones action with votes in doubt.

A proposal to ask Florida voters whether they want to impose term limits on school board members lost some momentum Wednesday, as the state Senate Rules Committee postponed its vote on the measure just moments before its sponsor was set to make closing remarks seeking support.

The idea of limiting board members to two consecutive four-year terms had won narrow passage in its first two Senate stops. Its House companion found much broader bipartisan backing on its way to the full lower chamber.

But the proposed constitutional amendment would need a three-fifths majority in both bodies to get to the voters. In the 40-member Senate, the 17-member Rules Committee was viewed as a trial run for whether SJR 274 could approach the needed 24 votes.

As the panel debated the issue, Senate Republican leader Kathleen Passidomo conducted some informal polling and found tepid support, bill sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley told the Tampa Bay Times. Several were getting negative feedback from officials back home, Baxley said, and suggested they weren’t on board with the bill as written.

Some signaled a willingness to go with three four-year terms, he said. Others were open to the idea of holding separate elections in each county, rather than one statewide ballot that would enforce term limits upon all counties.

“It’s a pretty tough call for incumbents,” said Baxley, who admitted to not being a big fan of the proposal himself. “Incumbents are unlikely to vote for anything against incumbency.”

He said Passidomo called for the temporary postponement of the bill to leave room for winning added backing.

“We’ll have a few conversations to see if there’s some consensus to put something together,” Baxley said. “We may come up with an amendment they like. But we’re running out of committee meetings.”

HJR 229, an identical measure, has been placed on the House calendar since March 28 but has not been considered.

The Constitution Revision Commission attempted to ask voters in November 2018 whether they wanted school board term limits, but the state Supreme Court removed the question from the ballot amid concerns over other parts of the three-pronged question known as Amendment 8.

Related: Gradebook podcast: Why Florida school board term limits? With Nick Tomboulides of US Term Limits