The Florida House voted 80-35 to move forward with HB 1493 that would allow voters to rearrange the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).
Sponsored by state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-District 21, and opposed by the BOCC, the bill will now proceed to the Senate where state Sen. Keith Perry has expressed support.
If passed, the bill would place a question on the Nov. 8 ballot that asks Alachua County residents if they want to switch the BOCC to single-member districts instead of all county citizens voting for all commissioners.
The bill started down the legislative path in December during a special delegation meeting with Alachua County’s state representatives: Perry, Clemons, Yvonne Hinson and Chuck Brannan. On Feb. 21, the bill passed the final of three legislative committees to advance to the House.
At the meeting, Hinson expressed her opposition to the bill, and she opposed it again on the House floor on Wednesday.
“In Alachua County, a small but vocal group tries to get single-member districts on the ballot year after year, and every year they fail,” said Hinson, D-District 20.
The false statement behind the bill, Hinson said, is that small municipalities lack a voice.
“One need only look at the county’s investments and cooperation with the cities to understand that the county cares greatly,” Hinson said.
She pointed to the county’s planned $30 million sports center, funding $15 million for housing and broadband and $8 million for a new truck radio system as proof.
Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-District 35, said he’s heard that the majority of Alachua County citizens are against switching the current system. If that’s true, he said the BOCC has no need to worry.
He added that it makes him wonder why the county has fought so hard against the bill and if future legislation is needed.
“I think we need to strengthen the law at some point in the future to make sure that county commissioners and school boards are not using tax dollars to push anything that they are in favor of,” Ingoglia said.
He said the matter will ultimately fall to the citizens through one of the methods afforded to them—their state representatives.
Clemons closed with one statement: “It’s time for the House to vote so that the citizens of Alachua County can vote.”
At a committee meeting, Commissioner Ken Cornell said he didn’t fear the ballot initiative but that the issue circumvented local authority.
“The voters have decided,” Cornell said. “The voters voted on the Alachua County charter. The Alachua County charter is our community’s constitution.”
The bill will need to pass the Florida Senate to continue. No vote has been scheduled yet.