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Eight is enough? House sets up popular vote on school board term limits

Entrenched incumbents are targeted.

A proposal to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that could impose term limits on all school board members was set up for a House vote Wednesday.

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 bill sets up a potential Constitutional amendment to be voted on this November, which would ultimately have to be ratified by 60% of those voting.

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 previously. “Two four year terms, eight years total.”

Sabatini, on the House floor, extolled the benefit of term limits, allowing people to “rotate” and not to “stagnate” in office.

“We have school board members nearing 50 years in the same office,” Sabatini noted Wednesday. That tenure, he suggested, can lead to “apathetic voters.”

Sabatini cited polling data showing 82% support for term limits, returning to polling in answers to questions from the opposing party.

The bill only applies to school boards, Sabatini noted.

Democrats had questions and expressed concern Wednesday.

Rep. Joe Geller zinged the sponsor, saying elections allowed voters to determine if incumbents “were out of terms.”

“The power of incumbency,” Sabatini cautioned, makes some candidates “unbeatable.”

Geller also suggested that localities may have disparate opinions about term limits. Sabatini said that term limits polled strong statewide.

Rep. Tracie Davis likewise cautioned that the bill is “one size fits all.”

“Counties are different,” Sabatini said, but aligned on the need to rein in school board terms.

Related Senate bill SB 1480 awaits a hearing by Rules, its final committee. It is sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters.

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.

Opposition has been present from the educational establishment, and it has been consistent with Democratic talking points.

The Florida Education Association has asserted that while “term limits for school board members might sound good, there could be some unintended consequences for voters. The true intent is to further weaken school boards’ power to shift local control up to the state level.”

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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