On Thursday, the Florida Senate approved by a 24-15 vote legislation that would impose term limits on school board members.
However, because the Senate changed the length of the term limits from eight years in the House bill to 12 years, the House will have to reconsider the legislation and accept the Senate changes before it heads to the Governor.
CS/HB 1467, introduced originally by Rep. Sam Garrison, would establish eight-year term limits for school board members newly elected or re-elected after August 2022. That bill was approved by a 78-40 party-line vote in the House on Feb. 10.
However, the Senate deviated, approving an amendment in the Rules Committee that allowed for twelve consecutive years to be served by board members, allowing incumbents to serve through the 2034 election. The goal, said Sen. Joe Gruters, was “uniformity throughout the state.”
The school board term limit issue is the difference between the Senate and House products. Each retains another controversial proposal, despite vigorous resistance from Democrats.
The bill still will require school districts to list all library and instructional materials in use in an online database, with a multi-step review process before adoption, including a mandatory public hearing and a “reasonable” opportunity for public comment.
The bill requires elementary schools to hire a media specialist to curate educational materials and library books. It also calls for school districts to report materials and books that draw public objections to the state Department of Education (DOE). The DOE would then publish that list for circulation.
Gruters said the “ultimate decision” to remove books from circulation rests with each school district and expressed “confidence in elected officials at the local level to make decisions.”
Gruters framed the bill as one about “term limits and transparency,” but as they did every step of the process, Democrats expressed qualms.
Sen. Jason Pizzo said the bill could facilitate a “circumcision of knowledge.”
“Those who vote for this are trying to dumb down their district,” he said. He went on to add that legislation like this is driven by Republicans worried about facing a Primary challenege from the right.
Sen. Randolph Bracy warned that the Department of Education would use the database to comprise a list of books to be banned statewide in an attempt to “erase history.”
“Parents should not have the right to erase history. Period,” said Bracy. “These stories have to be told.”
“You’re on the wrong side of history,” Bracy added. “Is it worth it?”
“It almost takes us down the road of segregation,” Sen. Audrey Gibson added.
“Here we are, banning books, in the freest state in the country,” Sen. Annette Taddeo said.
In his close, Gruters dismissed worries about book banning, saying it’s “not what the bill does.” Rather, the legislation is just a way of expanding “community involvement.”