We opposed House Bill 316 by Representative Richard Raymond, which would have lowered the compulsory attendance age to five. After being referred to the House Public Education committee, the bill died, never even having a hearing.
House Bill 319, also by Representative Raymond, will change the current statute that allows adults to be exempt from jury duty if serving on a jury would cause a child ten years of age or younger to be left alone, by extending the age to fifteen years of age. We supported this measure because home school moms have been caught between the requirement to serve on jury duty and the possibility of being investigated by CPS for leaving a child under the age of fourteen unattended. This has passed both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by Governor Perry.
HB 188, filed by State Representative Roberto Alonzo from Dallas, had the potential to undermine the right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children. THSC Association highlighted this bill in January, which resulted in calls to the author’s office. Because of these calls, Rep. Alonzo decided not to ask for a hearing, and the bill died in committee.
We supported House Bill 339 by Representative Larry Phillips, a bill related to teen driver education, because it includes language to require the state of Texas to track the crash rates of each driver education school or program and publish those figures so parents can tell which programs and schools produce safe drivers and which do not. Since the passage of parent-taught driver education in 1995, the commercial driver school lobby has attempted to repeal or restrict the ability of parents to teach their children to drive in almost every legislative session. We have often argued that there is no hard data at which one can point regarding the claims that drivers taught by their parents had higher crash rates than those students taught by other methods. This bill also passed both the House and the Senate and has been signed into law by the Governor.
We strongly opposed House Bill 1886 by Representative Robert Miklos because it would have expanded the daytime curfew laws by allowing county officials to help enforce those laws. After we opposed the bill in the Urban Affairs Committee and again in the Calendars Committee, we worked against it on the floor of the House after it initially passed on second reading. This passage occurred because of an amendment exempting home school students. When we advised legislators that this effort did not resolve the problems caused for home school students by these ordinances and urged a “no” vote on the third reading just two hours after its passage on the second reading, the bill was defeated; the House then voted to reconsider the vote, to give time for the author to find a solution. We spoke with Representative Miklos and urged him to withdraw the bill. He declined. Two days later we distributed to all House members a flyer noting the reasons for our opposition to daytime curfews, as well as noting the opposition of Texas Eagle Forum, Market Foundation, ACLU, NAACP and LULAC. At that point Miklos withdrew his bill.
House Bill 2084, the Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act, was our second effort to amend the Grandparent Access Statute to give relief to hundreds of parents who are being sued under this statute simply because the grandparents disagree with decisions the parents are making for their children. We made more progress this session than ever before. When we learned that the Family Law Lobby would turn out a number of attorneys to testify against the bill at the committee hearing, we asked parents to come to the Capitol and sign witness cards in favor of the bill, while THSC and the Free Market Foundation, as well as Steve Spencer, an expert on the issue, offered verbal testimony. Almost two hundred parents came to sign cards in favor of the bill, and it was voted out of committee a couple of weeks later after several hundred home schoolers, constituents of the chairman of the committee called his office to ask him to allow the bill out of committee. Unfortunately, the bill died in the Calendars Committee. THSC continued to try to amend the language of the TPRRA onto other pieces of legislation without success. We learned late in the session that the sponsor of TPRRA had agreed not to seek floor passage of the bill in exchange for some minor changes that the Family Law Lobby agreed to accept. We were disappointed, but we will continue to seek to amend the Grandparent Access Statute in future sessions.
On May 2 THSC sent a Legislative Alert in opposition to HB 710, although this bill did not directly affect homeschoolers, it was a major concern to us as it attempted to strip the State Board of Education of its powers and elected representation. This bill would require the State Board of Education to be subject to “Sunset Review,” which is a form of periodic review with which a group of 10 elected officials and 2 unelected officials review state agencies and have the ability to abolish such agencies. The bill passed on second reading by six votes but was defeated on third reading by two votes.
On May 14 we sent a Legislative Alert in opposition to HB 1232, a bill requiring mental health screening for certain children and the sharing of health care information with CPS and other agencies. We then went to work informing senators of the risks associated with this bill. In the end, all mental health screening language was taken from the bill, and agencies involved were warned that nothing in this bill is to be interpreted so as to allow school-based mental health screening. The bill was also amended to require parental consent before any sharing of information about their children among government agencies. This was a victory resulting from the action of Texas home school parents.
Then on May 27, we sent an Alert on SB 861 by Wentworth, a very similar bill that did not include mental health screening. We asked home schoolers to call their state representatives and ask them to kill this bill. As a result of these calls, several House members expressed their opposition to the bill; Representative Jodie Laubenberg took the lead and killed the bill by opposing it, debating the bill for more than the time allotted for bills (supposedly non-controversial) on the Local and Consent Calendar. Once again home school parents took action that protected all parents in Texas.
THSC also tracked a number of bills after we were contacted by a legislator who explained that he was concerned about “diploma mills” that issue high school diplomas for a fee with few or no requirements, some of which call themselves “home schools.” He told us that he was looking for a bill to use as a vehicle to require some state oversight or regulation of private schools to address this issue. While he explained that he had no intention of impacting home schools, we responded that should his attempt to deal with this small problem limit home school freedoms, we would be opposed to the legislation. Fortunately, of the bills we tracked, none that could have been used for this purpose made it through the committee process. We also worked closely on this with the Texas Education Agency; this is an issue that we both will watch closely in the future.
On the last day of the session the Parent Guidance Center, an organization that helps families who are involved in CPS (Child Protective Services) investigations, made us aware of the passage of
SB 1064 by Senator Kirk Watson was filed early in the session, and it sought to allow CPS, in the course of an investigation of abuse or neglect, to get the medical or mental health records of children who are the focus of an investigation. In order for CPS to accomplish this, the person refusing to give the records and the parents would have had to be given notice and a court hearing, and CPS would have been required to show “good cause” for the action before the court would order the release of said records to CPS.
However, a very different SB 1064 was substituted in committee, and it passed out of the Senate and was sent to the House. The new SB 1064, now SB 1440, gave the courts authority to force parents to give CPS access to the child and/or allow them to transport the child for “interview, examination and investigation” without a court hearing or notice to the parent. Worst of all, the language in the current statute that requires CPS to prove “good cause shown” was stricken. Thus this bill would have allowed CPS, during an investigation in which the parents refused to waive their 4th Amendment rights, entrance into the home, access to medical or mental health records of the child or transportation of the child, simply on the filing of an affidavit by a CPS worker with no hearing or opportunity for the parents or their legal counsel to present their case. While the proponents of the bill tried to say that this measure was the same as police getting a search warrant in a criminal case, it was, in fact, very different. A warrant requires first-hand evidence or corroboration of the allegations before the court can issue one, but SB 1440 would have allowed a court to give CPS access based simply on “information available” filed in an affidavit by an employee of DFPS (Department of Family and Protective Services) without notifying the family and in a hearing in which no representative of the family was present.
In fact, the goal of the legislation was to deal with a decision of the Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last year in the Gates case (Gates v Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, 2008). In that decision, the court clearly stated that CPS could not seize children without a court order. SB 1440 sought to standardize the practice of ex parte hearings (without the family or representative present) via affidavit to avoid the courts as mandated by the Fifth Circuit in the Gates case.
THSC worked with the Parent Guidance Center and numerous other organizations to encourage the public to call on Governor Perry to veto SB 1440. Thus began a three week campaign that involved us working with a number of attorneys in drafting a twenty-one-page document outlining the legal reasons for vetoing SB 1440, as well as a press conference in Austin and many e-mails, blogs, and articles. We also encouraged individuals to call their state legislators, asking them to contact the Governor and request that he veto SB 1440. Several legislators did just that, while others declined to do so. State Representative Jerry Madden, the sponsor of the original SB 1440, told us that he was unaware of the controversial nature of the amendment added by Representative Patrick Rose that made the bill so dangerous; he issued a public letter asking the Governor to veto the bill and to involve parent advocates, including THSC, in developing a solution. Finally, the Governor’s office called us on June 19th to let us know that he was going to veto the bill. In his statement accompanying his veto, the Governor noted that his office had received more than 17,000 calls, e-mails, and letters asking for the veto and only 455 in support of the bill. The Governor instructed DFPS to work with the CPS Parental Advisory Committee, of which I am a member, to develop a proposal that will protect children while preserving the rights of parents to protect their families against abusive CPS investigations. While this was a great victory, it is only temporary, and we must work with our allies, as well as those who opposed us, to find a solution that will protect innocent families and abused children as well.
After the Governor vetoed the bill, some of the proponents and opponents of SB 1064 and SB 1440 met in Austin at the request of Representative Jerry Madden to discuss their concerns and try to find possible common ground. We have been and will continue to be involved in this process. It now appears that this may be the beginning of the long-overdue process of reining in CPS and protecting children and families from abuse during CPS investigations.
In this session THSC Association had many victories and a few disappointments, but because of the support and involvement of the home school community of Texas, by God’s grace they have been able to protect the freedom of parents in Texas; with your prayers and support they will continue to do so.