Florida House advances proposal to limit school board member terms

The limits would affect anyone elected in 2014, allowing them to run in 2018 and complete that term. But that would be it.
Published Jan. 17, 2018|Updated Jan. 18, 2018

Term limits for Florida's school board members, already a controversial proposal before the Constitution Revision Commission, surfaced in the Florida House PreK-12 Quality subcommittee on Wednesday.

The measure, also a proposed constitutional amendment, came into play because "it may not pass the CRC," said sponsor Rep. Jason Fischer, a former Duval County board member.

And it deserves voter attention, Fischer told his colleagues, because Floridians largely support term limits for elected officials.

Initially, the bill mirrored the original CRC proposal. But after hearing some concerns about its provisions regarding current board members, Fischer offered amendments.

Instead of setting a strict limit, whereby anyone who had already served eight years could not run again, he proposed starting the term limits with any time served after 2013.

That would mean anyone elected in 2014 could still run in 2018 and complete that term. (The CRC has since amended its proposal to count board member service after 2015.)

Once a person has served eight consecutive years, he or she would have to leave the board, and could seek another election after a break.

Speakers were split on the idea.

Catherine Baer of the Florida Tea Party Network, once a term limit backer, suggested that term limits take away local control, and said one size does not fit all communities.

Nick Tomboulides, executive director of U.S. Term Limits, said he would support full retroactivity of the limits. But he agreed a compromise was better than nothing, and urged members to back the bill.

Lee County School Board chairwoman Cathleen Morgan, who argued that experience matters and term limits can hurt a board, suggested that at the very least the proposal should mirror what was done for lawmakers in the 1990s — starting the limits with their next election, and not looking backward to count service.

Several committee members said they were "conflicted" with the proposal.

They liked the idea of term limits, to ensure people don't make a career of elected office.

"When there is no limit, you become insensitive to the process and you think, 'I'm supposed to be here,'" said Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park. "I see it in certain districts."

But they also had their doubts, after seeing how term limits have affected the Legislature.

Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, noted that having too quick turnover of elected officials can create challenges. She was first elected in 2000 with a class of 63 freshmen members, and said initially that was a positive for the state to infuse new blood.

"Now I can tell you, experience means a lot and the learning curve is very significant," said Harrell, who left the House under term limits in 2008 and returned in 2010. "Over the years, I have become more effective. … Perhaps eight (years) is not enough to learn the insights and gain perspective."

She and others urged Fischer to consider changing his proposal to three four-year terms, and to eliminate the retroactivity.

Some members from both parties said they would vote against the bill because of its flaws. But Fischer asked them not to.

"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," he said, using an oft-repeated comment about legislation. "This is the first stop."

He pledged to work with the naysayers and the people seeking changes to improve the measure before it gets to the House floor.

"Please consider voting the way your voters want," he said. "They want term limits."

Several members, including ranking Democrat Rep. Bruce Antone, changed their position to advance the bill to its next committee. Two members, one from each party, opposed it.

A companion bill (SJR 194) has been referred to three Senate committees but has not been heard.