Texas 2013 Legislative Session: Update on the Child Related Bills Reviewed by CCLP

photo courtesy of: http://txvalues.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Legislative-priorities-copy.jpg

The last day of the 83rd Regular Session for the Texas legislature is fast approaching, on Monday May 27, 2013.  If a bill is not passed by the House and Senate by then, it will have to wait until the next session starting January 13, 2015.   The last day the governor can sign or veto a bill is June 16, 2013.

Updates on specific bills reviewed on the Center for Children Law & Policy blog:

HB 182 Reducing Penalty for Possession of Marijuana to a Class C Misdemeanor – This bill has been referred to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee where it will likely die.  Although this outcome was predicted, it is unfortunate for both juveniles and potential medical marijuana users.

HB 308 Permitting Recognition of “Traditional Winter Celebrations” in Public Schools – The most recent vote for HB 308 was 145 yes, 2 nos (Rep. Larry PhillipsR-Sherman and Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler) and 2 non-votes.  A public hearing was held yesterday, Tuesday May 14, 2013.  I am concerned this bill may pass, maybe not until the next legislative session, but as it flies in the face of current Supreme Court precedent, the issue would be appealed and  most likely years later be struck down by the Supreme Court.

This issue is reminiscent of the Kountze, Texas cheerleaders who Judge Hardin Thomas ruled on May 8, 2013 are constitutionally able to have Bible verses on their cheering banners at public high school football games.  Almost everyone reporting on this believes Judge Thomas will be overturned.  So do I.  HB 308 may end up being similarly decided.

HB 1057 Limiting Sex Ed Instructors and Requiring Parental Permission for Sex EdHB 1057 was sent to the Public Education Committee who made a report and have provided a report to the Calendars Committee on May 1, 2013 to be put on the calendar for the whole House to consider.  As no votes have been taken yet it is hard to guess exactly where all the Representatives will fall.  However, I predict this issue will die before the end fo the session May 27th.

SB 1114 Eliminating School Tickets – The most recent verbal vote was 31 to 0.  A corrected Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Report has been “sent to calendars” or waiting to figure out a date to be heard by the whole senate.  The Center for Children Law & Policy is hopefully SB 1114 will be passed this session as this will help students avoid the juvenile justice process for minor infractions at school.

Texting and Driving Bills – Currently, several of the texting and driving ban bills have become inactive or are still pending in committees, including HB 27, 63, 69, 108 and SB 28,   However, HB 347 was on the calendar for today, Wednesday May 15, 2013.  The Senate voted 31 to 0 for the bill today.  The House passed HB 347 on April 23rd with 130 Yeas, 15 Nays, and 2 Present, not voting.  However HB 347 is NOT a comprehensive texting and driving bill.  This bill only prohibits drivers from using wireless devices on school property and in school crossing zones.

Although HB 347 is a good start for safer driving, the other bills were more comprehensive, banning texting and driving anywhere, and would be better in my opinion.

2013 Texas Legislative Update: Values in Education – What are Parents’ Rights and What is Appropriate in School Settings?

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The issue of how values and religious traditions can come into education is not new.  Every legislative session various bills are filed for school children based purely on the values and religion of legislators, possibly even requested by parents and guardians.  These Representatives, Senators, and parents are seeking to increase religion in school after Supreme Court cases McCollum v. Board of Education Dist. 71 (prohibiting religious education in public schools during the school day) and Lemon v. Kurtzman (establishing the “Lemon test” for legislation concerning religion and holding the Catholic parochial school system was excessive government entanglement with religion).

Today, April 2, 2013, the Texas House Public Education Committee will be discussing two such religion and public school bills, among two dozen education bills.  HB 308 seeks to allow educators to say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Hanukkah” and “Happy Holidays” without fear of reprimand.  The bill is co-authored by Bohac (R-Houston), Raymond (D-Laredo), Orr (R-Burleson), Eiland (D-Galveston), and Huberty (R-Kingwood).

The official caption for this bill is:

Relating to a school district’s recognition of and education regarding traditional winter celebrations.

However, bloggers supporting the bill show it’s true flavor.  Some supports feel atheists are attacking Christmas, rather than families with different believes on what Christmas is and is not wanting to teach their kids their family values.  Parents deserve the right to educate their children on religion as they see fit.

Supports believe this bill which permits, among other provisions, “winter celebration” decorations in schools is legal because of the Supreme Court case Lynch v. Donnelly (permitting a town’s holiday decorations which included secular and religious displays).  However, the sponsors are Christians who want Christmas tradition taught in school.  Even if Jewish and secular traditions are taught too, it is highly probable in many parts of Texas Christianity would receive the most attention.  Religion, including religious holidays, should be taught in the home where families can determine what should and should not be taught.

Ironically, HB 1057 seeks to do the opposite, removing the power of educators to teach certain health and sexuality classes by adding a requirement of written permission from the parents to teach family planning.  This bill is co-authored by Leach (R-Plano), Laubenberg (R-Murphy), Morrison (R-Victoria), Scott Turner (R-Frisco), White (R-Woodville).  Every sponsor of this abortion centered bill is Republican, whereas the HB 308 holiday bill had support from both major parties.

HB 1057 seeks to prohibit any organization that provides abortions from teaching youth about family planning in public schools.  The bill attacks Planned Parenthood without explicitly saying so.  This bill is intended to put religion back in the health and science classrooms based on morals or values around abortion, not the health needs of possibly sexually active teens.

The Public Education Committee will have to consider the rights they want parents and guardians to have to decide what their children learn.  If parental permission is required for human sexuality courses, I cannot see how holidays, values, and traditions around “winter celebrations” can be taught by educators without exacting the same parental permission.