Bill aimed at making changes to FHSAA awaits DeSantis’ signature

Greater choice for athletes, big change to board, ability for school remarks before state games in the bill

(Kevin Nguyen, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A bill that gives high school athletes greater options than ever in choosing where they want to play and also reshapes the board of the embattled Florida High School Athletic Association cleared the Florida Legislature and now awaits the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Among the notable changes in HB 225 are greater freedoms for athletes to attend a school and play sports that they may have been blocked from going to before. That includes charter and virtual school students playing sports at public schools, or at a private school if they work out an agreement with that school. HB 225 passed the Senate 28-12 on a straight party-line vote, with Republicans unanimously supporting it and Democrats against it.

If signed, the bill would become law on July 1.

Other notable items in the bill include a major change to the FHSAA’s board of directors and the ability for schools to make remarks over the PA system before state series events.

Earlier versions of the bill had the FHSAA board, which has 16 members, being trimmed to nine. The bulk of those appointees (eight) would have been selected by DeSantis. In a revision by the Senate, the new board has 13 members — eight appointed by DeSantis, four elected board members and the commissioner of education or their designee. It also struck the need for the board to be balanced for diversity.

The bill also allows for each participating school to make remarks not to exceed two minutes prior to state series events like championships or semifinals. The FHSAA is not permitted to monitor or review the remarks. Those rules only apply to state series and not regular season events. Individual schools can decide whether to allow remarks before those games.

That situation likely arose from the Class 2A state championship game in 2015 between University Christian and Cambridge Christian. The FHSAA barred Cambridge Christian from saying a prayer over the PA system before that game. That prompted a legal fight, and the Florida Department of Education backed Cambridge Christian in the dispute.

The bill also says that should the FHSAA not comply, the education commissioner would then designate a nonprofit organization to govern high school athletics in Florida. The FHSAA has been in the crosshairs of state legislators for more than a decade. In 2012, then Gov. Rick Scott signed HB1403, a bill that loosened the association’s grip on transfer and eligibility issues, among other things.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.