Senate clears way for BOCC ballot initiative

The Florida Senate passed a bill Thursday that could change the way Alachua County residents vote for county commissioners, confirming a House vote and sending it to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

If the governor signs the bill, HB 1493, it would place a charter amendment before Alachua County voters to restructure its board of county commissioners from five at-large seats to five single-member districts.

The Senate doesn’t discuss local bills, such as HB 1493, unless the senator from the area decides to pull it for discussion. State Sen. Keith Perry, R-District 8, kept the bill on the regular path, and it passed as a group with 33 other local bills.

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“It was completely predictable that it would pass in the Senate,” Mark Sexton, Alachua County’s spokesperson, said in an interview.

Sexton pointed to the House vote as almost exactly along party lines and said that was unusual for local bills.

Perry agreed to support the bill in December during a special Alachua County delegation meeting with state Reps. Yvonne Hinson, D-District 20, Chuck Brannan, R-District 10, and Chuck Clemons, R-District 21.

Clemons brought the bill to the group saying he’d heard from constituents who feel the switch would improve representation. 

“Many residents have voiced concern about either real or perceived underrepresentation in Alachua County and that they feel ostracized or that their particular vote doesn’t matter,” Clemons said during a committee hearing last month

The bill received unanimous disapproval from the current Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). Hinson spoke and voted against the bill on the House floor.

On Thursday, Sexton said the bill was the work of a small group within the county who have tried to enact such a reform before and failed. He believes the group should have created a citizen-powered ballot initiative, rather than going through the Legislature.

“We feel very confident that the voters of Alachua County will vote against this bill, which is basically suppressing the vote that they cast for the Alachua County charter,” Sexton said.

Residents approved the charter in the 1980s, but a revision committee meets every decade to consider changes. The BOCC can also put forward suggested amendments that need voter approval.

The measure now heads to the governor’s desk.

“We’re just watching the bill to see what the governor does, and if he signs it, it will be on the ballot and it will be up to the voters to decide,” Sexton said.

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