Kicking and Screaming, Pinellas May Have Term Limits For County Commissioners


After decades of Pinellas County Commissioners fighting against term limits, finally it looks like the State will intercede with a 12 year legislated term limit for county commissioners.

A committee within the Florida House of Representatives voted unanimously to advance a bill that would impose 12 year term limits for all Florida County Commissioners.  The original bill, drafted as an eight year term, was amended before the Florida House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee voted on it this past week. It will face reconciliation against a Florida Senate bill which proposes an eight year county commission term.

You can read the Senate version (SB438) here.

You can read the House version (HB 57)  here.

The new legislation is expected to be finalized and in place prior to the 2024 election, and would be effective for the incoming freshman class of county commissioners as they take office following the 2024 elections in November.  The final law is not likely to be retrocative, allowing existing county commissioners to serve the full term outlined in the bill regardless of how long they have been in office.

Neither the Florida Constitution nor Florida Statutes provide term limits for county commissioners as of today. However, a charter county has the authority to set their own term limits, 11 counties in Florida imposed term limits within their county charter.

Provided to Tidings Media by the Florida Association of Counties

A grassroots movement in 2022 tried to get term limits for county commissioners on to the general election ballot, but failed to garner the 56,000 signatures to qualify for inclusion.  Pinellas County has recently divested itself of two multi-decade county commissioners, each of whom received (adjusted in today's dollars for inflation) over $2,000,000 in taxpayer provided salary and benefits during their decades of service on the Pinellas County Commission.  Former commissioner Ken Welch, now mayor of St. Petersburg, FL was on the Pinellas County Commission from 2000 through 2020.  Karen Seel, originally appointed to the Pinellas County commission by then Governor Jeb Bush, sat on the county commission from 1999 through 2022.  

More than 72% of Pinellas County voters did approve implementing term limits of eight years for county commissioners and constitutional officers in 1996, but subsequent litigation brought by the County Commission itself prevented the measure from ever going into effect

In 2002 as the lawsuit draged on, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the measure approved by the voters, saying it was unconstitutional. They reversed themselves in 2012, but the measure never went into effect. The Pinellas County Charter Review Committee (which is comprised primaruly of appointed representatives selected by the County Commissioners) heard arguments about placing the measure on the ballot in 2015-2016, but ultimately declined to do so.  

Before commissioners Chris Latvala and Brian Scott joined the county commission in 2023, David Eggers tried unsuccessfully in 2021 to introduce a  motion for term limits, backed only by Kathleen Peters. 

“Five years ago I testified before the County Charter Review Committee suggesting they consider 8 or 12 years for County Commissioners for referendum consideration,” Eggers said. “They declined.” Eggers also pointed to his “most recent call for a voter referendum on this issue,” which only one other commissioner Peters supported.

It appears that the Florida Legislature will end the discussion, as these two bills head towards reconciliation.  Tidings Media is wagering on the 12 year version being the final bill being put before Governor DeSantis who is expected to sign it into law before the 2024 elections.  The bill in it's final form may specify that existing 8 county charters with shorter term limits will supersede the State level term requirements on passage.  

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