Senate amends revamp of high school athletic governing group, heads back to the House
The goalkeeper guards the net as girls take part in the first day of tryouts for the Fort Walton Beach High School girls' soccer team. Image via AP.

An amendment changes House legislation that gives the Governor direct control over the association.

A measure that revamps high school sports governance won Senate approval, but must head back to the House because of a surprise amendment.

By a 29-10 vote, the Senate approved the measure after substituting House-approved legislation (HB 225) for the Senate’s version (SB 308). Both bills overhaul Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) governance of athletics and change the rules of engagement for where students can play sports.

“This is a school sports choice bill,” said bill sponsor Sen. Jay Collins of Tampa. “This is about the kids. Everyone’s focused on making sure they have the opportunity to play sports and take part in competition.

But the Senate amended a controversial provision that would have given the Governor direct power to appoint eight of the nine board members of the association, with the ninth person being the Education Commissioner. The Education Commissioner is tapped by the Governor and then approved by the Governor-appointed state Board of Education.

The Senate version would make the FHSAA board a 13-member board, with four members chosen by the athletic association’s board members.

Sen. Darryl Rouson was the only Democrat voting with the majority.

The legislation the House passed would give Gov. Ron DeSantis a power that only the Delaware Governor has, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The FHSAA, a private, nonprofit organization that oversees sports for grades 6-12, recently made headlines. The group proposed mandating female athletes answer form questions regarding their menstrual history. The group pulled that plan after backlash.

Rep. Fred Hawkins, the bill’s sponsor, said in committee that the House bill was drafted before that controversy erupted, however.

The legislation would also:

— Eliminate the provision that one board member be chosen “to balance the board for diversity or state population trends, or both.”

— Allow for two-minute opening remarks for each school before events.

Sen. Lauren Book asked, “Are you concerned about the politicization of the FHSAA?”

Collins said he had been talking with FHSAA officials in seeking to keep that from happening.

“I believe that we’re all on the right path on this,” he said.

FHSAA’s Executive Director Craig Damon appeared in committee and warned about the bill’s unintended consequences. He came to Collins’ Office and the two came to an agreement on the board’s formation. That produced Monday’s amendment, which now must go back to the House for approval.

But Sen. Jason Pizzo of Miami said he didn’t want to see the Legislature get involved in this.

“I just feel like athletics is one of the last holdouts, the last bastions of separation from politics, even from the classroom,” Pizzo said.

Another bill (SB 190) related to athletics and deemed “similar” legislation, would extend to charter school students the same provisions now offered to students who are homeschooled, as this bill does.

Both bills enable charter school students to play for willing private schools rather than the public school to which they’d otherwise be assigned. That bill, which Sen. Erin Grall introduced, received unanimous support from the Senate floor and has been sent to the House.

An identical bill (HB 259) is on second reading in the House.

Those two bills do not touch on FHSAA governance and board makeup, however.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

One comment

  • Billy the Bamboozler McSued 100 times

    April 3, 2023 at 4:46 pm

    Mini Hitler is consolidating everything in his own hands. The Ancient Roman emperor stripping everyone else of any real power slowly but surely. Florida will be a full blown, right wing dictatorship in ten years. Already a right wing police state.

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