Bill loosening School Board residency requirements headed to Senate floor

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A Senate Committee approved a bill loosening residency requirements for School Board candidates — sending the issue on for the full Senate’s consideration.

The full House has already approved identical legislation (HB 411) that would make it so School Board candidates no longer need to reside in the district they want to represent at qualifying time. Residency would be required at the time of election, according to the bill.

There’s just one more legislative vote to go before the change heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

Republican Sen. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill has proposed the bill (SB 444) that he says is pushing changes in the name of uniformity.

“This elected position is seen as an outlier in comparison to other elected offices,” Ingoglia said, as he introduced the bill.

Senators, Representatives and County Commissioners must reside in the place they are running to represent at the time of the election, and not at qualifying, as School Board seats do for now. For county constitutional officers, candidates don’t need to reside in the county until assuming office.

Democrats have opposed the two companion bills at other stops, with many arguing the School Board is unique among elected offices. They have also said this would leave these local-focused seats vulnerable to political opportunists with no community ties.

At Wednesday’s hearing in front of the Senate Rules Committee, however, Sen. Rosalind Osgood said she’d change the residency requirements for all the elected offices.

“I believe strongly that all elected officials, no matter what level they serve on, should have to live in their districts,” said the Democrat who represents central Broward County.

The legislation is among a number of Republican bills aiming to reshape School Board governance across the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken an unprecedented interest in School Boards. He’s the first Governor to identify a slate of candidates he wished to see voted into office.

Other legislation on the move would ask voters to approve making School Board races partisan affairs. Another bill seeks to limit School Board terms to eight years, from the current 12-year limit.

During testimony, Rich Templin, representing Florida AFL-CIO, blasted all of those ideas. Voters are waking up to what’s going on, he said.

“They (voters) have come to find out that they’re having nonpartisan elections be turned into partisan elections — they don’t want that,” Templin said. “They have come to find out that they’re getting smaller term limits on their School Board members. They never asked for that.”

He added, “It’s just unfortunate that we’re seeing this pattern where the voters back at home really feel like they’ve lost complete control of their local communities”

Republican Sen. Ed Hooper, representing Pasco and Pinellas counties, was in favor, however. “Consistency is not a bad thing in this scenario.”

Republican Rep. Kevin Steele of Dade City introduced the House version.