Local term limits measure, which would impact Pinellas, advances in Legislature

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Two decades after voters said “eight is enough” for state lawmakers, a House proposal could lead to term limits for sheriffs, tax collectors and other county officials in many parts of the state, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

The House Community & Military Affairs Subcommittee on Wednesday narrowly approved a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 785) that would make clear voters in about 20 counties can slap term limits on local officials.

The 8-7 subcommittee vote reflected deep divisions that remain about term limits, which were approved for the Legislature in 1992.

“Basically, it (the proposed constitutional amendment) is about the wisdom of the people,” sponsor John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said. “It’s about what type of government they want for their county.”

But other lawmakers said county officials, in effect, have term limits because they are up for election every four years.

“I am just fundamentally against term limits,” said Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando.

Wood’s proposal would apply to about 20 counties that operate under voter-approved charters. Those counties — including major population centers such as Broward, Miami-Dade, Duval, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties — have more flexibility from state laws than other counties.

If approved as a constitutional amendment during the November election, Wood’s proposal would allow voters in charter counties to impose term limits on county commissioners and so-called “constitutional” officers — sheriffs, tax collectors, property appraisers, supervisors of elections and clerks of circuit court.

A 2002 Florida Supreme Court opinion invalidated attempts in Duval and Pinellas counties to impose term limits on constitutional offices, saying the limits “unconstitutionally attempt to impose an additional disqualification from election to office.” Another case is pending in the Supreme Court about imposing term limits on Broward County commissioners.

Groups representing constitutional officers appeared at Wednesday’s meeting to oppose Wood’s proposal.

Tim Qualls, general counsel for the Florida Tax Collectors Association, said voters in charter counties already can limit terms because they have the power to abolish constitutional offices. The duties could be transferred to other offices that would be subject to term limits.

But voters in some counties might not want to abolish offices. Wood said the proposed constitutional amendment is needed to override the 2002 Supreme Court decision and make clear term limits are allowed.

The proposal, however, is politically volatile, as was evidenced by three Republicans joining four Democrats in voting against it Wednesday. After the 8-7 vote to approve the proposal, an attempt was made to reconsider the issue — with that idea dying in another 8-7 vote.

“You’ve got to love it when that kind of stuff happens,” subcommittee Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, said of the close, bipartisan votes.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.