A House education panel advanced a proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday that would limit school board members to eight years in office.
The measure (HJR 157), filed a second year by Howey-in-the-Hills Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini, would go to voters if passed. The amendment passed the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee by a 12-4 vote.
In 1992, Florida voters passed an amendment limiting Florida lawmakers to eight consecutive years in office. Sabatini says those term limits have brought increased diversity to the Legislature.
“What happens is when you freshen it up and new people are coming in with new ideas, it forces folks to pay attention,” he said. “They’re not just voting for that familiar name. They’re looking and they’re analyzing, they’re comparing, they’re contrasting new leaders in that political office.”
While Sabatini said all elected offices should be subject to term limits, he wants to keep the effort narrow. School board members are the most powerful office without term limits, he argued, even more so than mayors.
The proposal is popular among the public — an estimated 82% of Floridians support it, Sabatini said — but school board groups and some Democratic lawmakers oppose it. Fort Pierce Democratic Rep. Delores Hogan Johnson, a former educator, said voters can and have voted out incumbents if they fall out of grace.
“I cannot support this bill. I’ll say this right now, because I think that each district has an opportunity to decide for themselves,” Hogan Johnson said. “Often as I speak to people, I talk to them and tell them this is government of the people, by the people and for the people. This is all of ours.”
Chris Doolin, with the Small School District Council Consortium, testified that the amendment would not enhance local involvement. Additionally, he believes voters in a few counties could overrule the majority of school districts.
“People don’t really have a clue as to the varying differences in the counties, whether or not there are jobs, the economic conditions, the district performance,” he said. “People voting on this will have a significant impact on how we operate at the local level.”
Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, argued the amendment should instead let non-charter counties adopt term limits. Currently only the state’s 20 charter counties can make the move, though few have.
The amendment next goes to the House Oversight, Transparency & Public Management Subcommittee.
The amendment’s Senate companion (SJR 1480), filed by Plantation Democratic Sen. Lauren Book has not been scheduled for a hearing. Neither has Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruter’s alternate amendment (SJR 1216) for 12-year term limits.