TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — The Florida House passed legislation Wednesday that would bring about an overhaul of the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The proposal now faces and uncertain future in the Senate.
A handful of Democrats joined Republicans to pass the measure (HB 7137) in an 86-29 vote.
The proposal would overhaul the organization’s governance, setting up a 16-member board to oversee the association. It would also require a third-party review for students suspected of being ineligible and allow students to continue to play while their eligibility is reviewed, though games could be forfeited if a student is later ruled ineligible.
High schools would also be allowed to join the association for some sports, but not in others — particularly football. And students, particularly those at small, private schools, would have more opportunities to participate in sports.
However, lawmakers dropped perhaps the most-controversial provision in the bill, which would have required the education commissioner and the State Board of Education to make a decision in 2017 about whether to keep the association or replace it.
Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the Hialeah Republican who pushed the bill through the House, said the provision was meant to keep an eye on the association while the changes were made. He suggested to reporters that there were other ways to do that.
“We meet every year, we have session every year, so we can readdress this issue at any time,” Diaz said. “And I think it’s our duty to (do so), because they’re given a statutory monopoly basically, and so we have to review to make sure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”
The bill is the latest chapter in a long-running dispute between lawmakers, particularly those in the House, and the association. Like the NCAA, the organization’s attempts to enforce rules sometimes anger those affected by its decisions. Lawmakers who backed the legislation said the bill was helped along by the association’s attitude.
“I did not see a cooperative spirit that said, ‘You’ve pointed out some good things, let me run back and implement them,’ ” said House Education Chairwoman Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake. “We saw none of that. Should we have had that, we might not have needed a bill.”
Opponents of the legislation said that it could lead to the organization being less vigilant about students being recruited to switch high schools for athletic reasons, though that is technically illegal and would remain so under the bill.
Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, said that only 11 disputes went to the association recently, out of more than 250,000 athletes, and roughly half were decided in favor of the student. Three of the cases, he said, were caused by academic requirements.
“We are trying to change the state of Florida law on a non-profit organization that takes no money from the state for basically less than a handful of kids,” Rader said.
But the bill could run into trouble in the Senate. After the upper chamber’s version of the legislation stalled, it was attached Tuesday to an omnibus education bill (SB 948) during a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee. However, so-called legislative “trains” sometimes have difficult passing because of their complexity.
(The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.)