2013 Regular Legislative Year in Review
During the spring 2013 legislative year, the THSC Watchmen sifted through 9,721 pieces of legislation and tracked over 125 bills—about 100 more bills than the previous session—so that you would continue to homeschool with freedom.
Our priorities were as follows:
- Protect Family Rights: Block any bill that threatens the right of families to make their own decisions in the raising of their children.
- Stop Lawsuit Abuse Against Single Parents: Pass the Parental Rights Restoration Act.
- Equal Access: Pass the Tim Tebow Bill.
We also killed 12 bills that would have harmed homeschooling and parental rights on a wide variety of fronts, such as:
SB 1148 (DEAD)
This bill would allow in-laws to force fit parents into financially devastating legal battles over possession of those parents’ children. It would permit any in-law to sue any family for access or possession, instead of only those in which a death, divorce or incarceration has taken place.
In addition, the current requirement—that the in-laws prove that denial of access or possession will significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being—is lowered by not requiring expert testimony or opinion in order to prove this.
In other words, every Texas family, without exception, could be subject to these lawsuits under SB 1148, and a judge could accept anyone’s opinion or testimony that the denial of access or possession would “significantly impair the physical health or emotional well-being of the child.”
The measures would lower the standard even further of what is required in order to restrict the fundamental, constitutional right of parents. If this bill had become law, only those families that have the financial resources to defend themselves would have effectively retained the right to direct the care, control and upbringing of their children.
SB 1148 could have destroyed your family. But as a result of the overwhelming response from the parents and homeschool community of Texas, Sen. Royce West pulled SB 1148 from consideration on March 19 at the Senate Jurisprudence Committee hearing.
SB 303 (DEAD)
This bill would take away parents’ authority to make important healthcare decisions for their child and give that authority to a doctor.
- First, it would empower doctors to place “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) orders in the files of sick children and the elderly without their consent. Absolutely no one except a panel of doctors could remove this death sentence.
- Second, it would allow doctors to remove artificially administered nutrition and hydration from a sick patient under certain circumstances. Only families should have the authority to decide whether to withdraw life-sustaining nutrition from another family member.
- Finally, SB 303 would grant doctors complete immunity from lawsuits involving DNR orders. Legal liability for DNR orders would hold the doctor responsible for their actions. Removing liability removes accountability.
The House sponsor of SB 303 even told THSC representatives that doctors were better qualified than parents to make decisions for children in end-of-life situations, because parents are “too emotionally involved.” We would never tolerate a policy that gave professionals instead of parents the right to make educational decisions. And neither would we do so in the area of medical decisions.
As with many controversial bills, SB 303 contained both positive and negative elements. For instance, the bill required that a doctor give notice of a DNR order, unless the patient’s death is considered “imminent.” But notification is not consent. Even if the doctor notified the parent of the DNR, the parent could do nothing.
Additionally, the bill extended the time that a patient has to transfer hospitals before life-sustaining treatment is withdrawn from 10 days to 21 days. However, Texas Right to Life has helped 80 families through the transfer process and very few can complete that process within 21 days. It was the clear view of most pro-life organizations and of others that the solution was worse than the problem itself.
Because of overwhelming opposition to this measure, Chairwoman Kolkhorst killed the bill by not allowing a vote before May 18 at midnight. This is a situation in which those legislative rules worked to protect Texas families.
Some have questioned why THSC got involved in this issue and have even said it was not a homeschooling issue at all. Our response is that the fundamental, constitutional right of parents to direct the care, control and upbringing of their children is the foundation of our homeschool freedom. Any violation of that right strikes at the very heart of our homeschool freedom, and that is the reason we opposed this bill.
HB 1340 (DEAD)
This bill would have allowed 14-year-olds to consent to their own immunizations. In the Texas House of Representatives, our work forced the author to dramatically limit the scope of the bill. In the Senate, the bill did not gain any traction and died in committee.
HB 772 (DEAD)
This bill would have recorded the immunization records of all Texas families unless the family opted-out of the system. Currently, only those Texas families who actively choose to include their immunization records in the Texas immunization database are tracked. Given the strong resentment that many families face for choosing not to immunize their children, THSC believes that there is no good reason for the state to be collecting sensitive medical information on families who might not want it recorded. Any family who does can already opt-in to the system.
Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act
A major loophole exists in the grandparent access statute which allows in-laws to take possession of their grandchildren for an undefined “temporary” period of time. Unfortunately, some in-laws have exploited this loophole to remove children from fit single parents due to disagreements over legitimate parenting decisions such as homeschooling.
In the case of Jim Loose, this loophole was used to take his daughter away for more than three years! Cases such as these illustrate blatant disregard for the fundamental, constitutional right of a fit parent to raise his or her own children in the manner that the parent deems best. The Parental Rights Restoration Act seeks to end this lawsuit abuse.
Texas courts are hearing more and more of these cases, and all too often good single parents are reduced to bankruptcy in their attempt to fight affluent in-laws. The law is often used as a weapon, forcing these single parents to submit to what the in-laws believe is best for the child.
In some cases, the parent loses possession of the child for years under “temporary” court orders, while the grandparents use legal actions to draw out the process. Good single parents should not lose their parental rights simply because they have less money than grandparents.
On April 23, Sen. West finally scheduled a hearing for the Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act (TPRRA) in the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence. He also scheduled a hearing for his bill (SB 1148) which would actually expand the number of families that would be subject to lawsuits by in-laws.
But unfortunately, the TPRRA, along with about 100 other bills, died in the Texas House without a debate or vote on May 10 at midnight. In the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, Chairman West blocked a vote on Senator Donna Campbell’s SB 1194, which was the Senate version of the TPRRA.
While it is disappointing that we did not pass the TPRRA, we made significant progress this session. We had a Senate bill that we did not have last session and we had a hearing in both the House and Senate. We also had more witnesses testify than we did two years ago, and their testimonies had a dramatic impact.
More and more legislators are becoming aware of the problem, and our support is growing. We will continue to work on this issue and educate legislative candidates during the next campaign season. Thank you for supporting our efforts with your prayers and finances.
Tim Tebow Bill
The Tim Tebow Bill would allow homeschool students to participate in UIL activities in their school districts.
UIL was created in 1913 for all Texas students. In 1915 eligibility was restricted to white public school students. According to testimony in the Leeper vs. Arlington ISD case, 80 percent of the students in Texas were homeschooled at this time. Although minority students were allowed to participate in UIL beginning in 1967, homeschool students are still excluded.
We refer to this legislation as the “Tim Tebow bill.” Tim Tebow was a homeschooled student who played with a public school team in Florida and later earned a scholarship to the University of Florida. Once at the University of Florida, he won a Heisman Trophy in 2007 and played in the NFL.
This legislation would simply allow homeschoolers to compete in UIL activities. The bill is similar to legislation passed in dozens of other states that already allow homeschoolers equal access to school activities.
The bill states that students who live in the district can participate, but students cannot withdraw from a public school and compete as a homeschool student in the same school year. It also requires parents to assure that the student is passing their classes each reporting period.
Here are the facts on this proposal:
- It works. 27 states already allow homeschool students to participate in UIL activities.
- Cost shouldn’t be the issue. There are an estimated 320,000 homeschool students in Texas. Since the Texas Comptroller estimates that educating a single student costs $11,000 annually, homeschoolers save the state about $3.5 billion annually.
- It helps rural homeschoolers. Many homeschool students in rural areas do not have the opportunity to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities. Oftentimes, the nearest homeschool family may live 50 miles away, even though a public school may be nearby. (For more factoids about the Tebow Bill, visit: THSC.org/Tebow)
Concerns from Homeschoolers
Some homeschoolers opposed the Tim Tebow bill, arguing that it would lead to the regulation of all homeschoolers in Texas. We disagree.
We do agree that our homeschool freedoms are at risk every time the legislature is in session. That is why THSC is always on the alert to oppose any legislation that would erode our parental rights and freedom to homeschool. But whether or not homeschoolers are allowed to take part in UIL, there will continue to be efforts to limit our homeschool freedom.
Opponents fail to note that, over the last two decades, we have seen a number of state legislative changes, such as:
- Requiring that homeschool students be allowed to take the PSAT in public schools
- Allowing homeschool students to take dual credit classes in community colleges
- Requiring state colleges to treat homeschool graduates the same as public high school graduates for the purpose of college admissions.
None of these changes have resulted in the loss of our freedom to homeschool. None of the 27 other states with Tebow laws, be they high or low regulation, have seen increased regulation as a result. And homeschool athletic groups from states with Tebow laws did not see any significant, noticeable effects on homeschool sports participation.
Furthermore, Subsection D of the Tim Tebow bill explicitly ensures that parents retain ultimate authority and oversight of all academic standards relating to participation in UIL activities.
Some opponents also argue that the bill should not distinguish homeschoolers from traditional private school students. However, the Tim Tebow bill references a definition of “homeschool” that was written into Chapter 29.916 of the Education Code in 2007. Texas law already distinguishes between homeschools and traditional private schools in several sections, and no new regulations have arisen as a result.
We should not allow fear to keep us from expanding the freedom of homeschool students in Texas.
The Senate Education Committee hearing went well, and on April 2, The Texas Senate Education Committee voted to pass the Tim Tebow bill. The vote was 7-1, with one senator not voting.
The bill passed the Texas Senate on April 25 by a wide majority of 21-7.
In the House Public Education Committee, however, Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen single-handedly blocked the passage of the bill by preventing it from coming up for a vote.
Nonetheless, the Tebow bill made more progress this session than it ever did before. If there had been a different chairman in the House, the Tebow bill likely would have passed.
2013 Special Session Recap
The 83rd Texas Legislative Special Session ended on June 30. Some good news to report:
- Judge Randy Catterton, the judge who ruled against homeschooling father Jim Loose, resigned from the 231st District Court at the end of May. Gov. Rick Perry will appoint a temporary judge to fill his position.
- During the Special Session, no bad bills were passed by the legislature that affected homeschooling or parental rights.
- Gov. Perry vetoed SB 429 after THSC sent a letter explaining why the bill was bad for Texas families.
THSC is thankful for the advances that were made in the causes of homeschooling and parental rights this legislative session.
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