FSBA bills moving in Florida Legislature again
A controversial proposal aimed at curtailing lawsuits against the state by the Florida School Boards Association is back for the 2016 session and is starting to move through both chambers of the Florida Legislature.
House Bill 1155/Senate Bill 1426 prohibit membership groups -- namely, the FSBA -- from using public dollars to sue the state, a move that critics argue could have a chilling effect on the group's ability to challenge laws and programs its members feel are unconstitutional.
Both bills -- which passed their first House and Senate committees on Tuesday -- refer broadly to "membership associations" that receive taxpayer dollars, but the hearings in both chambers focused almost solely on the school board association and its recent participation in a lawsuit challenging a voucher-like state program that helps children from low-income families afford private school.
The FSBA had joined the legal fight against the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships but later withdrew. The Florida Education Association is still fighting that case.
State lawmakers' attempt to rein in the FSBA originated last year in the midst of that lawsuit. Last session, legislation passed the House overwhelmingly, but it never got a floor vote in the Senate.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is sponsoring this year's Senate version and she told senators it's been narrowly tailored so it "only applies to, for the most part, the school board association."
She said the FSBA has a "large public interest," which means it should be scrutinized as a "quasi-public organization."
"With the amount of dollars they’re receiving from our public funds, we need to have that amount of accountability," she said.