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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Florida House Republicans are pushing for term limits on county school-board members

Posted By on Wed, Jan 29, 2020 at 1:13 PM

click to enlarge Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills - PHOTO VIA ANTHONY SABATINI/TWIITER
  • Photo via Anthony Sabatini/Twiiter
  • Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills
House Republicans are renewing a push to ask voters to impose eight-year term limits on county school-board members, with backers saying the idea could help dislodge “entrenched” incumbents.

The proposal (HJR 157) would go on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment and would apply to school-board members throughout the state. It would lead to term limits that are similar to the eight-year limits approved by voters in 1992 for state lawmakers.

“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,” sponsor Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, said Wednesday during a meeting of the House Oversight, Transparency & Public Management Subcommittee.

“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.”

But opponents point, in part, to vast differences among counties and say school-board term limits should not be imposed statewide. Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, said the proposal would lead to term limits in all 67 counties, “whether they want it or not.”

“There are differences in the state,” said Chris Doolin, a lobbyist for the Small School District Council Consortium. “(Under) this proposal, all the voters in the state get to choose for all the counties in the state.”

The House subcommittee Wednesday approved the bill, which could go to the House floor if it is approved by the Education Committee. Adding term limits would require voter approval because the structure and duties of school boards are included in the Florida Constitution.

A similar term-limit proposal was approved by House committees last year but did not receive a vote in the full House. Two Senate committees approved the proposal last year.

Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, has filed an eight-year term limit bill (SJR 1480) for this year’s legislative session, but it has not been heard in Senate committees.

A separate measure (SJR 1216), filed by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, proposed 12-year term limits for school board members. It was slated to be heard this week in the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee but was postponed because the committee ran out of time. Also, Gruters has filed a proposed amendment that would change the measure to call for eight-year term limits.

Sabatini and other supporters of the proposal pointed Wednesday to broad public support for term limits and said voters would ultimately be able to decide in November about approving the term limits.

“The bill is about letting Floridians choose for themselves,” Sabatini said.

But other lawmakers said a better approach would be to allow voters on a county-by-county basis decide whether to impose term limits.

“My issue is with this is that we have a one-size-fits-all policy for Florida, potentially,” said Rep. Javier Fernandez, D-South Miami. “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.”

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