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THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 20, 2013…….A bill that would place new restrictions on investigations by the Florida High School Association passed its first committee Wednesday, reopening a legislative battle from last year about the association’s role in policing prep sports.

The legislation (HB 1279) would require the FHSAA to presume a student eligible unless he or she is proven to be ineligible; would change language barring athletes from receiving any benefit from schools to instead prohibit any “significant benefit”; and change the association’s investigative procedures.

Investigators for the association would no longer be allowed to search athletes’ homes, even with their parents’ permission, and would have to be licensed private investigators. They would have to finish any investigation within 90 days of opening it.

The measure passed the Choice and Innovation Subcommittee unanimously.

Supporters of the bill say it’s needed to stop overreach on the part of the association, which critics say has been too zealous in recent years.

“This bill does to more level the playing the field between the FHSAA and students and parents” who are the targets of investigations, said Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha.

The Access for Student Athletes Coalition, a new initiative spearheaded by the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability, issued a statement lauding the bill, saying it cut back against the idea of FHSAA as an fair arbiter in sports.

“But, the real story here is about an organization that has instilled fear and has bullied the very children we are trying to teach to be strong and be kind to others,” Foundation Chairman Jim Hart said in the statement. “Parents with complaints of intimidation, biased questioning, and unwarranted assumptions of guilt continue to see their complaints go unanswered or even ignored.”

During the meeting, a representative of the association suggested that the organization could work through its issues with Metz’s bill. But afterward, the group sent out a statement blasting the proposal as “an unwarranted cheap shot at fair play.”

“This policy change would jeopardize the integrity of high school athletic competition by creating the equivalent of ‘free agency’ for student-athletes,” the statement said. “It would invite the tragic element of cutthroat recruiting to the wholesome world of prep sports.”

Metz insisted the bill would not undermine the rules.

“We’re not saying it’s okay to have open recruitment with this bill,” he said.

The measure is the second time in as many years that lawmakers have taken on FHSAA. Last year, they passed a bill allowing transfer students to largely remain eligible in the same year they transfer and limiting the ability of FHSAA to sideline students for recruiting violations. At the same time, the measure cracked down on schools and coaches involved in the violations.


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