A new version of House Bill (HB) 135 from Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) that was approved by the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services would create a Class C misdemeanor — which carries a penalty of up to $500 in fines — for anyone who makes use of that right to record a CPS interview and publishes it online.
The version of the bill that received a unanimous vote in the House would require notice that someone could “create an audio recording of the [CPS] interview but may not record the interview in any other manner” and also that any recording is subject to a court subpoena.
Under current law, CPS investigators are not required to notify alleged perpetrators of their right to record, though that right already exists.
Texas has a “one-party consent” law with respect to recordings, meaning that individuals who are a party to the conversation — in this case, the alleged perpetrators who are being interviewed — can openly or secretly record the interview.
Proponents of the legislation argue that providing notice to parents under CPS investigation that they are allowed to record would provide more transparency and accountability in the process.
However, some parental rights advocates contend that the reform would actually hurt parents’ defenses more than help them since it would create more opportunities for the government agency to make use of recordings as evidence against the parents.
“If I was to do this bill differently, I would notify you that [. . .] we’re a one-party state, you’re allowed to record me overtly or secretly. That’s your right in our state,” said Judy Powell, the communications director for the Parent Guidance Center, during the bill’s initial hearing in the House.
“This is a nebulous ‘you have the right to record during the interview,’ but it’s not outlining their real right under the state of Texas,” said Powell.
Powell also expressed opposition to the bill’s later limitation on recordings to only audio recordings.
Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) expressed similar concern about prohibiting video recordings, but at the Senate hearing, HB 135 sponsor Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) said that Minjarez would be open to putting video recordings back in.
“I have had some firsthand experience of families trying to protect themselves from CPS, and thank goodness they did have a video of the behavior of what was happening,” said Hall.
In 2019, controversy erupted after CPS removed four-year-old Drake Pardo from his family in Hall’s district while refusing to disclose what allegations had been made against the parents to spur the removal.
The Pardo case gained a notable amount of attention from the public in part due to a recording of the removal that was published online.
But the legislation that the Senate committee approved — with only Hall voting against it — would have barred the Pardos from sharing that video online.
During the Senate hearing, the chair of the committee, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) urged the addition of the section prohibiting publishing videos online.
“Yes, there are times when CPS workers are wrong,” said Kolkhorst. “But [. . .] I’m just going to assure you — today, there are children being abused and there are children being neglected. I want the video, but I also want to say that you can’t just throw that up on social media, identify the CPS worker, and slander them.”
The Texas legislature is nearing the end of its session when lawmakers have the opportunity to pass new laws.
In order for HB 135 to go into effect, it still needs to jump through a number of hoops.
The Senate as a whole must approve the bill and the House must concur with the changes before May 28. If the bill is sent to the governor, it can become law if he signs it or simply chooses not to veto it.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.