House Urban Affairs Committee hears bill that would allow county officers to enforce city daytime curfews…
I left Lubbock on Thursday morning at 6:30AM and was at the Capitol by 8AM. As a courtesy I stopped by the office of Representative Miklos (author of HB 1886) at 8:30 to explain our concerns with his bill. His legislative director was on the phone, and as I waited, I heard him tell someone that they had been receiving lots of calls that started the night before. I found out later that he was speaking with the mayor of Balch Springs who had asked Representative Miklos to carry the bill. I expressed our concerns and left.
Although the Urban Affairs Committee hearing was set to begin at 10:30AM, the House did not adjourn until after noon. The hearing began about 12:30, and HB 1886 was not heard until just after 2PM. Representative Miklos explained that the purpose of the bill was to allow county law enforcement officers to enforce the juvenile curfew in cities who had such curfews in place and did not have enough police officers to do so. He said that the bill had nothing to do with home schooling and would not expand daytime curfews and that the calls from “home school interest groups” were misled. He introduced the mayor of Balch Springs who was the only witness in favor of the bill.
The mayor said the purpose was simply to make better use of their limited tax dollars by getting the county to help enforce their curfew. He said that home schoolers were exempted from the measure because they should have “home school certificates” and that students have written permission from their parents in case they were stopped. I later pointed out that home schoolers don’t have “certificates” in Texas and these ordinances don’t have exemptions, but defenses.
Representative Charlie Howard, the only member of the committee to express opposition to the measure, called it an undue restriction on the freedom of parents and students. Many committee members asked positive questions of Representative Miklos and the mayor.
I was one of five witnesses registered in opposition to the measure, which included a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). I was the only person to give testimony against the bill. I presented to the committee the points against the bill and a 2007 article from the Houston Chronicle that quoted studies saying that curfews, both nighttime and daytime, do not lower crime or truancy and that the measures are very often selectively enforced, mostly in low income areas. The article described the practice of Houston police staking out minority schools and ticketing students who were late to school and the complaint of such students and parents for tickets in the $200 range.
Representative Turner from Tarrant County asked me why we weren’t focusing our efforts on the city councils that adopt the curfews. I explained that the home school community, the ACLU and the minority community are indeed opposing daytime curfews at the local level. He then said he did not see how the bill would expand daytime curfews. I explained that in the last year and a half we have seen school districts across the state asking cities to adopt daytime curfews to help them enforce the compulsory attendance laws and that, if small towns with little or no police force could use county law officers to enforce the curfew in their cities, logically we could see more small towns adopting such measures to the detriment of home schoolers and minorities. He was not moved and stated his support for the measure.
Representative Gutierrez of San Antonio stated his support for the measure and said that all such curfews did was give police probable cause to question young people in public. I explained that curfews were not necessary because legislation in the last session had been adopted to allow law enforcement officers to enforce the compulsory attendance laws. He said that he did not see a problem with the proposal, and I responded that $200 tickets for coming in late to school seemed like a problem to me.
Representative Alvarado of Houston stated that police in Houston did not target minority areas, which was contradicted by the Houston Chronicle article. She also read a partial quote which implied that curfews do work, and I read a direct quote to her from the article that stated otherwise.
Representative Miklos closed and asked the committee to vote his bill out of the committee, but Chairwoman Yvonne Davis instead left the bill pending, which means she did not allow a vote. This is a good sign. Although the bill can be brought back up at any time for a vote, had she been inclined to support the bill, she probably would have done so immediately.
We will continue to monitor HB 1886 for any further action. Representative Charlie Howard deserves notes of thanks for his support. You can view the video of the hearing. Click on 03/19/09; HB 1886 discussion starts about 2:06.