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Term limits would apply to school board members. Pictured: Duval County School Board member Lori Hershey.

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House OKs ballot measure to limit school board terms

The Senate bill is still in committee.

A proposal to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that could impose term limits on all school board members was passed 79-39 by the House Thursday.

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 Wednesday, 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, illustrating a familiar philosophical divide between the parties in the Legislature.

Those concerns recurred Thursday before the floor vote.

“This is another attempt to take away local control,” said Rep. Tina Polsky.

Rep. Joe Geller wondered why the House was “preempting … mandating.”

Rep. Carlos Smith made the larger case against term limits, which he suggested eroded “institutional knowledge” in the Legislature, and could do the same for school boards.

“The consequences,” Smith said, “outweigh the benefits.”

Republican Rep. Thad Altman broke with the caucus, saying that the bill takes away “freedom,” restricting the right to run.

“We don’t need an artificial restriction of our rights … in the Constitution,” Altman said.

Democratic Rep. Kim Daniels, meanwhile, broke with her caucus, saying “there may be too much power given to people who may be elected bad players.”

“I’ve been back and forth … at the end of the day, I’m up on this bill,” Daniels said.

Rep. Matt Willhite, a Democratic co-sponsor, noted that the bill gives the people the chance to decide what goes into the Constitution.

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.”

Meanwhile, some support came in from a national group supporting term limits.

“This vote is a tremendous step forward,” said Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of USTL. “School board term limits will elevate new voices and ideas to give all students the great education they deserve. Now that the House has done its job, we encourage the State Senate to move swiftly, put this on the ballot and let the people decide.”

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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