HB 253 Update

I visited State Representative Harvey Hilderbran’s office yesterday morning and talked to him personally about our concerns about HB 253. He did not spend much time with me; since we have known each other for years, he told me he knew we had concerns but that the same bill had passed out of the committee last session, and he thought it would again.

I told him that if he would withdraw all the language related to compulsory attendance, we would not have a problem with the bill. He said he was not willing to do that but would be open to some alternative to address our concerns, and I told him I’d see him at the hearing. I went on to visit a couple members of the House Human Services Committee, who were very responsive to our concerns. Representative Jodie Laubenberg asked me to give her details about our concerns, which I did, and she expressed her full support for our position and told me that she had been getting lots of calls from concerned home schoolers. Representative Bryan Hughes’ office told us they had received more than 300 calls and were also supportive of our position.

At the hearing (you can view the recording of the hearing here), I was the first witness to give testimony, and I explained that CPS has problems with home school families because they are not able to go to a school and interview and/ or remove home school students for examination without parental notice or consent, as they do with public or traditional private school students. We encourage home school parents not to waive their 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches, and when parents resist such attempts, very often aggressive CPS workers insist that they must have access to the home and the children before they can close a case, despite the fact that the allegations are rarely made with any evidence at all. THSC has dealt with this issue by offering attorneys Continuing Legal Education training in defending innocent families against CPS in exchange for an agreement by these attorneys to represent a family for free.

I explained at the hearing that CPS often uses police officers to intimidate parents to waive their rights by allowing CPS into their home simply on the basis of an anonymous allegation. In fact, some officers have gone even further and have threatened to arrest parents. One of our concerns with this bill is that it allows a police officer or school attendance officer to make a “home visit” and seek entrance into the home on the basis of a compulsory attendance violation allegation if the family is also under investigation for abuse or neglect, just as CPS attempts to do. The danger with this bill is that it allows the same thing that CPS workers try to accomplish with police officers under the guise of investigating truancy allegations.

Home school families are often threatened with truancy charges and sometimes charged illegally. I also expressed our concerns that penalties for violations of the compulsory attendance statute will be increased dramatically from a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine of $500, to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and/or a jail sentence of up to 12 months. A second conviction for the same offense is a third degree felony, punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and/or a jail sentence of two to 10 years. Our point is that this bill is obviously targeted at the FLDS community in Representative Hildebran’s district but could have huge implications for other parents and families across the state.

Representative Hilderbran told the committee that he intended to work with all parties that have concerns with his bill. He said that he would work on amending the bill and bring a substitute bill back to the committee for future consideration. After my testimony, Representative Hilderbran took me aside to say that he did not intend to fight over the compulsory attendance language but wanted to focus on the bigamy sections and that he would work with us. We will continue to monitor this situation and issue any necessary calls to action. Thank you to the hundreds of folks who called and emailed the members of the Human Services Committee. You made a huge impact.