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The Senate Education Committee met May 13 to hear testimony on the following bills:

Sen. Donna Campbell laid our her bill, SB 1083, which would make sex education an opt-in course that requires written permission from a parent/legal guardian before a student could attend. Parents would also opt a student in to specific lessons or topics. Testimony by an individual as well as representatives of Texas Values Action and Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops was supportive of the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Jane Nelson, Senate sponsor of HB 1080 by Rep. Jared Patterson, laid out the bill. It would prevent school districts and open-enrollment charter schools from adopting or enforcing policies that restrict a student from participating in UIL activities based on a student receiving mental health services. Jamey Harrison with UIL testified as a resource witness, stating that the UIL does not have a rule that prevents students from participating based on mental health issues. The bill was left pending.

Sen. Lucio, Senate sponsor of HB 189 by Rep. Terry Canales, laid out the bill. It would require that open enrollment charter school governing bodies follow the same procedures as the board of trustees of a school district when making a severance payment to a superintendent or administrator upon early termination of his/her contract. Lucio said the Texas Charter School Association supports the bill, which was left pending. No testimony was given.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Senate sponsor of HB 159 by Rep. Mary González, laid out the bill, which updates the requirements of educator preparation programs to integrate instruction on topics relating to special education. See an analysis of the bill as passed by the House. Texans for Special Education Reform testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Senate sponsor of HB 2721 by Rep. Eddie Lucio III, laid out the bill. As filed, it bans a student from participating in extracurricular activities or UIL events if the student engages in conduct that constitutes assault against a referee, judge, or other official of an extracurricular activity in retaliation for the official’s actions in performing their duties as a referee, judge, or other official. Lucio explained that the bill was filed in response to an incident in which a referee was assaulted by a football player. Rep. Royce West asked what would be the determining factor in whether a student committed such an act, whether it was a student being charged with assault or would it require conviction of the offense before this rule would be enforced by UIL. Chair Larry Taylor said he believed, based on the bill’s language, that it would be up to the school district to make the determination. He expressed concerns about the harshness of the consequences cited in the bill, citing an example of a 12-year-old who might not know better or is abused at home and gets frustrated and kicks a referee. He asked if banning a student in that situation for the remainder of their school career would be the best course of action or might put a student “on a bad path.” Discussion ensued about changing the bill to include a progressive series of consequences, such as starting with a one-year suspension minimum penalty, and requiring anger management training, etc. Sen. Charles Perry said he feels severe consequences (such as the ban) need to be in place to discourage intentional assaults in which a referee could be severely injured. Discussion ensued and testimony given supportive of altering the bill to allow for second chances in some circumstances. The bill was left pending.

Sen. Charles Perry, Senate sponsor of HB 1342 by Rep. Jeff Leach, laid out the bill. He explained that certain independent school districts participating in TRS-ActiveCare that desire to solicit bids for new health insurance providers have reported having a hard time obtaining accurate cost comparisons due to a lack of available information from TRS. This bill seeks to remedy this issue by requiring TRS to provide any de-identified health information, enrollment information, or other available relevant information on request in connection with a search for alternative health benefit plan coverage. It amends current law relating to the provision of certain health information and other information to school districts and other participating entities in the Texas school employees uniform group health coverage program. Beaman Floyd testified on behalf of TASA in support of the bill, stating that support for the bill was in concert with other proposed legislation being considered related to districts having choices between TRS-ActiveCare and the private marketplace. Other testimony on the bill was also supportive. It was left pending.

Sen. Charles Perry, Senate sponsor of HB 2120 by Rep. Keith Bell, laid out the bill, which would codify the process by which school board administrators in independent school districts process complaints and grievances. No testimony was given on the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt laid out HB 1133 by Rep. Travis Clardy on behalf of the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Bryan Hughes. It would allow the voters of Rusk County to decide whether to maintain or revoke the county equalization tax. The Senate Education Committee already heard and reported the Senate companion, SB 998. No testimony was given on the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt laid out HB 129 by Rep. Mary González on behalf of Senate sponsor Sen. Judith Zaffirini. The bill would add to the topics that should be covered under essential knowledge and skills related to “digital citizenship.” The definition of digital citizenship would include cyberbullying, as well as digital ethics, etiquette, safety, and security, including the identification of hate speech, racism, and discrimination. It would also include media literacy, including the ability to identify credible sources of information. Beaman Floyd testified on the bill, which was left pending.

The committee also voted the following bills out of committee (most were bills on which they heard testimony earlier in the day; see above for more information on them):

  • HB 159 by Gonzalez (9-0 vote)
  • HB 189 by Canales (9-0 vote)
  • HB 1080 by Patterson (9-0 vote)
  • HB 1133 by Clardy (9-0 vote)
  • HB 1342 by Leach (9-0 vote)
  • HB 2721 by Lucio (9-0 vote) – In response to earlier discussion on the bill (see above), Lucio said that he will accept an amendment by West on the floor.
  • SB 1083 by Sen. Donna Campbell (9-0 vote)
  • HB 690 by Metcalf (9-0) would require school board members to take a course on school safety.
  • CSHB 1496 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (9-0) would amend current law relating to requiring school districts to report management fees under certain cooperative purchasing contracts. A substitute was adopted that the committee noted had been explained in a prior hearing.