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Leave county commissioner term limits to the voters

In World
February 25, 2024

The Florida Legislature is contemplating bills that would enforce uniform term limits for county commissioners across all 67 counties, a move that not only encroaches on constitutional safeguards but also undermines local governance autonomy.

Currently, the Florida Constitution empowers counties to set their own commissioner term limits through a Charter County designation, fostering local control and flexibility in government structure.

This should not change.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is greeted by senators and representatives as he arrives to give the State of the State Address on opening day of the 2024 Florida Legislative Session on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is greeted by senators and representatives as he arrives to give the State of the State Address on opening day of the 2024 Florida Legislative Session on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024.

The proposals treat counties differently. The House proposal HJR 57 implements eight-year term limits effective in November 2024. The Senate proposal SJR 438 creates a “hodge-podge” of five categories of counties created to implement the term limit mandate.  None of the categories allows the local county the ability to determine whether term limits will exist.

You may wonder what’s wrong with the Legislature mandating term limits for county commissioners?

  • The proposal undermines local autonomy: The legislation strips local communities of their right to decide on the structure of their local government, including term limits. This top-down approach disregards the nuances and specific needs of individual counties.

  • The proposal lacks justification: There is no clear rationale for this statewide mandate. Local elections already facilitate turnover, and the constitution provides a process for counties to establish term limits if desired. The bill seems to solve a problem that does not exist.

  • One-Size-Fits-All Solution: The diversity among Florida’s counties in terms of population, geography, and challenges is significant. A uniform term limit policy fails to acknowledge these differences and could hinder effective local.

Of the 67 counties – 20 already have established themselves as a Charter County.

  • 11 of the 20 Charter Counties have established county commission term limits.

  • 8 of the 11 Charter Counties have chosen to establish eight-year limits.

  • 3 of the 11 Charter Counties have 12 year limits – 3 four-year terms.

The current Senate proposal

Here’s what the Senate legislation does:

  • Non- Charter Counties with population greater than 25,000 shall have eight-year term limits for county commissioners imposed beginning November 3, 2026.

  • Charter Counties that do not have county commissioner term-limits will not be allowed to consider whether to have commissioner term limits as part of the county charter.  An eight-year term requirement will be mandated beginning Nov. 3, 2026.

  • The eight Charter Counties with county commissioner term limits equal to eight years will have to adhere to the current timeline of the county charter.   Their constitutional authority will be preempted.

  • The three Charter Counties with a term limit greater than eight years will be required to hold a referendum on the General election ballot in November of 2024, to determine if county voters wish to reduce the 12-year term to an 8 year term.  No other option will be authorized.

  • The Non-Charter County with a population less than 25,000 will impose the eight-year term limit beginning on November 7, 2028.

The solution is simple:  The voters should be allowed to continue determining if term limits should be established in their local community and for how long.

Chris Doolin

Chris Doolin

Chris Doolin is a registered lobbyist representing Local Governments including the Small County Coalition.

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Leave county commissioner term limits to the voters

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