Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 44: Between the Conception and the Creation Falls the Education

Today is the 44th day of the regular session of the 82nd Texas Legislature. Both the House and Senate will reconvene at 10 am.

The House Public Health Committee meets today at 8 am for it's "organizational meeting". Chairwoman Kolkhorst will discuss her priorities for the session and get a feel for where other committee members want to go. HB 415 by Anchia (D-Dallas) has been referred to the public health committee.

Under Texas law adoptive parents may petition the court to have a new birth certificate that reflects the adoptive parents names. This is standard practice and is done to make easier for those parents to prove their relationship to the child. Unfortunately the law specifically prohibits two men or two women from being listed as parents on a birth certificate (despite it being perfectly legal for two men or two women to adopt a child). HB 415 would fix this problem.

Anchia has filed this bill before and it's always received an emotional hearing in committee, but has never been voted out and on to the House floor. I'm hopeful that it may be better received in committee this session (read Legislative Queery's Day 38 post for more information).

Last night I sat on the Panel for 'Issues & Answers - Bullying' in Houston with Rep. Jessica Farrar and Houston Independent School District Trustee Juliet Stipeche. Farrar indicated that HB 1386 by Coleman (joint authored by Farrar) may be referred to the Public Health Committee as well. HB 1386 is similar to HB 224 by Strama (the big "Bully Bill") but far more comprehensive and inclusive, going well beyond just bullying issues in schools to require training on suicide prevention awareness for almost all state employees who interact with youth. The hope is that since HB 1386 deals with the broader issue of suicide that it will be considered a public health issue and not just a public education issue.

The Speakers office has broad latitude in referring bills, but Speaker Straus has a reputation for respecting members wishes so it's quite possible that HB 1386 will go to the Public Health Committee. If that happens we may see two committee hearings on a very similar topic in the next month or so. This is good. The 82nd Texas House is almost 2/3 freshmen and sophomores. Although bullying legislation has been filed ever session for over a decade many of the current members of the House may never have been in a hearing when a parent described the heartbreak of their child's experience, or a teacher talked about the frustration of not having the tools they needed to address the problem. There is value in Committee Hearings, even when bills never make it out of committee, because it educates members.

This is the challenge of changing the law: the slow, torturous process of educating lawmakers on experiences that they have never had. It's a slow process, two steps forward and one step back, but it's how our system works. Before this idea that being tormented by other students should not be a part of any student's reality takes root and is born full-fledged as common wisdom, amidst all the struggle and pain, the conjouling and convincing we must educate, we must tell our stories and insist on being heard.

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