The Florida House on Thursday passed a measure aimed at increasing scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials, while also backing eight-year term limits on school board members.
The Republican-controlled House voted 78-40 along almost straight party lines to approve the bill (HB 1467). It is among the most-controversial education proposals of the 2022 legislative session, with Democrats framing it as advancing a “culture war” issue.
Under the measure, parents of students in school districts would have to be included in committees that make recommendations to school boards about the “ranking, eliminating, or selecting” of instructional materials.
School districts also would have to adopt procedures that would allow for the “regular removal or discontinuance of books” in school libraries based on factors such as the books’ relevance to curriculum and alignment to state academic standards.
Bill sponsor Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, defended the bill against Democrats’ attacks during a floor debate Thursday.
“What this bill is seeking to do is provide transparency to reinforce for parents the security and the confidence that comes with knowing that they can drop their kids off at the local library and be comfortable. They want to encourage their kids to go to the library,” Garrison said.
But Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, criticized the measure as “top heavy” because of policies it would force local education officials to adopt.
“I think it’s a lot of bureaucracy. I think every responsible school board out there takes parent input. I don’t think we need every one of these school districts to work on having another policy that’s going to get debated and edited and adopted,” Geller said.
While Republicans say the measure is geared toward amplifying the voices of parents in their children’s education, the bill also would give the public increased access to review books and other reading materials.
For instance, the bill would require school districts to post lists of all instructional materials on websites searchable by the public. Elementary schools would have to publish lists of all books and materials in school media centers.
Rep. Mike Gottlieb, D-Davie, pushed back on the part of the bill that would give any person the ability to inspect schools’ book lists.
“Giving a racist who lives anywhere in the world the opportunity to infiltrate our communities and to spread their hatred by banning a book that my child might read, that might redirect them, is wrong,” Gottlieb said.
Democrats also targeted part of the bill that would cap school board members’ terms at eight years.
Rep. Susan Valdes, a Tampa Democrat who is a former Hillsborough County School Board member, argued that the public already can vote out board members in elections.
“Do we need to get rid of the bad players? Absolutely. That’s why we have elections,” Valdes said. “My friends, let’s think about the educational system in place for our children. And let’s not make it more difficult and more bureaucratic to get that done.”
Democrats also have questioned why term limits wouldn’t be addressed through a proposed constitutional amendment.
But Rep. Joe Harding, R-Williston, argued that school board members should have term limits just like state lawmakers.
“I believe in term limits. If they’re good enough for this body, they’re good enough for the president of the United States, they should be good enough across the board in all elected positions,” Harding said.
Rep. Andrew Learned, D-Brandon, was the only House member to cross party lines, joining Republicans in voting for the bill. A similar Senate bill (SB 1300) needs approval by the Rules Committee before it could be considered on the floor.