TALLAHASEE, Fla. (AP) — Legislation allowing voters to decide whether to limit Florida public school board members to eight years in office began moving forward Tuesday in the state Senate.
The proposed constitutional amendment by Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley of Lady Lake cleared the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee by a 4-3 party-line vote. It must pass both houses of the Legislature by a three-fifths vote to be placed on the ballot in 2020, and then would have to get two-thirds of the vote in that general election to win final approval.
The measure would bring the 358 school board members elected in Florida's 67 counties under the same term limits as the governor and Cabinet and other state elected officials. A Senate staff analysis says if the measure wins final approval, the earliest a school board member could be term limited would be 2028.
Baxley, the committee's chairman, said term limits are overwhelmingly supported by Florida voters and that an eight-year limit for school boards would bring them in line with other state officials. The initial "Eight Is Enough" term limits referendum in Florida in 1992 was approved by 76 percent of voters.
"Eight-year term limits are the most common limit in Florida, and they work," Baxley said. "People like them. They feel more in control of their own government."
The proposed amendment is not without opposition. Some local officials say it violates the principle of home rule and that one alternative would be to authorize counties to hold their own votes on the proposal. Others say voters already have the opportunity at regular elections to keep or reject school board members.
Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach said some voters might prefer school board members with more experience rather than changing those offices every eight years.
"I'm more well-prepared to tackle the depth of issues we deal with today than I was in 2012," Powell said.
But Powell withdrew his proposed amendment for a 12-year school board limit and the original legislation was approved.
A House version is also moving forward in committees.