Calling it retaliation against his Democratic colleagues for striking down one of his bills just last night, committee chairman Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) voted aye.
“Let me just say this. I don’t know how big this problem is, and I wish I did, because I’d be in a better position to make this vote,” Dutton said.
“But I can tell you this. The bill that was killed last night affected far more children than this bill ever will. So, as a consequence, the chair moves that Senate Bill [SB] 29 as substituted be reported favorably to the full House with the recommendation that it do pass and be printed, and show the chair voting aye.”
Dutton was referring to his House Bill (HB) 3270, which would have solidified certain powers of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner to enforce the state’s public school accountability system. Strongly opposed by teachers’ unions like the Texas American Federation of Teachers, the bill is directly related to Dutton’s home district.
“We have schools that are doing great in this state. And I’ll be the first to admit that. I will tell you, though, that there’s a high school in my district, and it also happened to be the high school I graduated from,” Dutton said when presenting his bill three hours deep into last night’s marathon legislative day.
“It’s been an F campus for seven years when we have made the accountability for that school. But it’s actually been more than that. It’s been almost closer to 10 years an F campus. And I just think that’s unacceptable… If a school district lets a school fail for five consecutive school years, they ought to get the hell out of the way.”
Houston ISD has been dodging a state takeover due to ethics violations. Citing a “powerful and entrenched bureaucracy,” TEA Commissioner Mike Morath has long sought a state takeover of the district, a power of his office which the legislature approved in 2015. Dutton characterized his bill as a way to shore up this measure and “to straighten out a Third Court of Appeals opinion,” referring to a recent court ruling which undercut the commissioner’s accountability powers just as the TEA neared the cusp of its Houston ISD takeover.
“There are a whole lot of us like me in this legislature, that we have to listen to our students. And our students are saying that, ‘Look, the building is on fire. Somebody come and help us.’ And what this does is establishes that the commissioner of education has the authority to carry out what this legislature says,” Dutton said.
Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), who also sits on the House Public Education Committee and voted against SB 29, killed Dutton’s HB 3270 with a point of order on the House floor.
“This bill is about making it easier to take over every school in the State of Texas… A vote for this bill would essentially be giving away your school district,” Allen said.
“When a school goes down, a community goes down… That’s the long effect of this bill passing.”
Allen went on to halt Dutton’s bill in its tracks with a point of order, a procedural move meant to hamstring bills that fail to follow certain House rules.
Then, when the two met again with the rest of the House Public Education Committee to discuss SB 29, the formerly neutral and now visibly irked Dutton threw his support behind the controversial transgender limitation — the only Democrat on the committee to do so.
Several other Democrats on the committee, including Allen, spoke against SB 29 before the vote.
Echoing remarks he made two days ago, Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) called SB 29 an empty political stunt.
“We should kind of stop the performance. I know we all kind of play parts when we’re up here… We know this is not trying to solve a problem. This is for political reasons. We all know that,” Talarico said.
“We’re doing this because… Republican primary voters are wanting this to happen and some of us are worried about our primaries.”
Fellow Democratic member Rep. Mary González (D-San Elizario) agreed and further said the mere discussion of the bill could cause harm.
“Even the discourse creates a climate, an environment for young kids, in which they feel worse about themselves and contributes to their mental health and anxiety and their depression, which the ultimate consequence of that is suicide,” González said.
“We are continuing a discourse that makes kids feel less than themselves. And that discourse has such real consequences. And the reality is that the only reason that we all know we’re doing this is not because there’s a problem with policy in practice but a political moment in time.”
Calling the issue a “psychological crisis,” Allen pointed to the potential educational or athletic careers of transgender youths and said passage of SB 29 could derail them.
“We have wiped out the whole career of young children who are building a career. Maybe they’ll go into something else in their profession. And so I think we’re doing a disservice to children who are already in a position not to defend themselves,” Allen said.
Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), whose absence left the bill one vote shy of advancement in the last vote, framed it in the context of one of President Joe Biden’s earliest executive orders, which nodded to transgender athletes in public schools.
“The reality of the situation is the federal government is interfering with the education of our systems and creating rules and guidelines and it’s just a fact,” Huberty said.
“And you know we want to make sure the rules we have for Texas… are what we’re operating under. And I think that’s what we’re talking about.”
The committee voted 8 to 5 to advance a committee substitute for SB 29, a revised version of the bill that would “sunset” it in 2027, meaning it will pass out of law unless the legislature chooses to renew it in six years. González had suggested adding a sunset provision to the bill two days ago, but Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who was carrying the committee substitute at that time, rejected her amendment after she said it still wouldn’t earn her vote.
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