A proposal to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that could impose term limits on all school board members cleared its second House panel.
It now has one stop before the House floor.
HJR 157, filed by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican, would lay the groundwork for an “eight is enough” rule, similar to term limits imposed on state legislators.
The Oversight, Transparency, and Public Management committee approved the bill by a 10-5 margin, with some Democratic opposition. The full Education Committee is next.
The bill’s a refile: it did not get to the House floor last year, though it cleared all three committees of reference.
“This is not a bill that creates school board term limits … it creates a referendum,” Sabatini said. “Two four year terms, eight years total.”
Sabatini cited poll data showing 82% support for term limits, calling this a “good government” bill and extolling the benefits of term limits.
Why school board members? “They actually control $21 billion at the local level,” Sabatini said.
Many of them have served decades, he added.
Some Democrats on the committee caviled, asking if there was a “need” for a bill.
Rep. Margaret Good questioned the poll data, wanting to see the actual document.
Rep. Anna Eskamani drilled down on the poll’s probity also, wanting to know the year of the poll.
Rep. Bobby DuBose likewise was down on the bill, saying it should be handled on the local level.
“My issue is with this is that we have a one-size-fits-all policy for Florida, potentially,” said Rep. Javier Fernandez, a South Miami Democrat. “There’s a lot of local variation, a lot of local texture that we should take into account. Communities can decide for themselves. I certainly would not want to impose our perspective in Miami-Dade County on the rest of this great state and vice versa.”
However, those dissents didn’t derail the term-limit train.
Republicans, as one would expect, backed the bill, with discussion of how difficult it is to unseat entrenched board members.
“I’m looking around this room [at House members] and what I see is a lot of folks who did not run against an incumbent,” Sabatini said. “In the great majority of the cases, most people understand incumbency is, like some folks have said, an entrenched position of power and strength. There’s lot’s of money involved. Once you are an incumbent, it’s extremely difficult to remove an incumbent, even if they … are doing things that are not reflected by the voters.”
Various members of the public waived comment in opposition, with AFL-CIO’s Rich Templin expressing concerns about the poll.
“It’s been really the only evidence in favor of this legislation,” Templin said, saying that a “95% confidence rate would be better at 99%.”
Templin noted that for this Legislature, often concepts that poll well don’t get traction.
“There’s been no argument. There’s been no debate in the public,” Templin said.
The Florida Citizens Alliance, meanwhile, backs the measure.
He added that 20 counties could impose term limits in their charter now.
Related Senate bills (SB 1216 and SB 1480) have yet to clear their first committees.
If the proposal passes the House and Senate, it would go on the November ballot, where 60% of voters would have to ratify it via Constitutional amendment.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.