This is great::
[Author's Note: CPS stands for Child 'Protective' Services.]
In February we came across Senate Bill 768 (SB 768) by Sen. Carlos Uresti. In its original form this bill dealt with several parts of the Texas Family Code specifically related to the parent-child relationship, which is why it came up on our radar. What made us particularly cautious about this bill is that it would change Texas statute in a way that would allow the laws in other countries to affect Texas courts.
In the worst-case scenario, if a family in another country were jailed for home schooling (like some home school families in Germany) and then fled to Texas, CPS could use the grounds that they were convicted for home schooling in Germany as reasons for taking away their children here in Texas. “That sounds absurd,” you say, but remember that CPS seems to specialize in doing absurd things, like“kidnapping” children because of job security.
In March we received word that the bill had been scheduled for a hearing. Right away we dispatched THSC Watchman Jeremy Newman to testify against the bill and make our concerns known. Jeremy listened to the initial layout and explanation by the bill’s author (Senator Uresti) and then rose to make his own testimony against SB 768.
The committee as a whole was receptive to Jeremy’s points, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that Jeremy’s testimony was followed by Cecilia Wood’s. Cecilia is an experienced family law attorney and parental rights advocate from Austin who provides critical and much-appreciated legal support at the Texas Capitol for conservative organizations, such as Concerned Women for America and the Texas Home School Coalition.
Thus began a month-long ordeal in which Cecilia and Senator Uresti’s office corresponded back and forth on how to come to terms. During this time thousands of bills were moving forward with public hearings, floor debates, and key votes that our Watchmen team was dealing with while we continued to monitor SB 768.
Once you’ve worked through a complete legislative session you get a feel for which bills have a lot of support, and are going to clearly move forward, and which bills are lower priority, are stagnating, and will eventually die through attrition. By April we had placed SB 768 in that latter category. On April 8 our monitoring systems reported that the bill had been voted out of the Senate committee with slightly different language. The changes removed all references to foreign law (good!), but the bill still retained language that would give CPS an unprecedented advantage against innocent families undergoing CPS accusations (very bad!). Namely, it could force families to undergo two CPS trials when the first one couldn’t prove wrongdoing. Parents would have to pay for both trials, while all the while their children remained locked into the CPS system. It became clear quickly that this bill was bad. Very bad.
Ten days later, on April 18, the bill passed the Senate and was sent to the House. No changes had been made; it still had the same awful provisions that CPS wanted. The argument by Uresti’s office for the past month had been that these provisions were necessary in order for CPS to receive additional funding from the federal government. [Emphasis Added]
Aha! So that’s why! The professed motive behind this bill is that a dysfunctional and bloated bureaucracy wants more money to continue its dysfunction and bloat? Great. Just great.
Then it dawned on us: Uresti’s office probably had no intention of ever compromising on that portion of the bill. That was the entire purpose of the bill: to change Texas laws for the worse because Big Daddy Federal Government was dangling a carrot in front of Texas CPS.
One week later the committee voted the bill out unanimously on Monday, May 13, and its official House sponsor was Rep. Elliott Naishtat (Democrat) from Austin, all of which wasn’t too surprising. What was surprising is that it had been sent to the Local and Consent Calendar.
For those who are unfamiliar with the process in the Texas House, whenever a bill is voted out of committee the chairman of that committee can elect to send it to one of two places: the Regular Calendars Committee or the Local and Consent Calendars Committee. Controversial bills are sent to the Regular Calendars Committee, while bills that are expected to pass unanimously in the House are sent to the Local and Consent Calendars Committee.
Is the Local and Consent Calendar ever abused? Yes, definitely. It’s not uncommon for a legislator to try to “sneak” a bill onto the Local and Consent Calendar. If successful, his bill will be brought up early during the day, with possibly a hundred other bills that are quickly glossed over and voted on by legislators who aren’t really paying attention to what’s happening. After all, why should they? The bills are supposed to be non-controversial and would have unanimous support anyway.
We marked SB 768 down as a success on our hit list and then moved on for the rest of the day with other bills that vied for attention. The nextdeadline on our calendarwas just a couple of days away: Wednesday, the last day for all Senate bills to pass the House.
On Tuesday night a curious thing happened. We had finally wrapped up work for the day around 9 p.m. and were taking a much-needed respite. One of our Watchmen, Ben Snodgrass, is also a student at Patrick Henry College and was working on a report for his school that night. At 10 p.m. he took a break from his report and naturally did what someone who lived and breathed the Texas Legislature would do: he started reading bills—for fun.
Even though Ben and the rest of us knew that SB 768 had died the previous day, Ben decided to pull it up anyway. To his astonishment he discovered that not everything was as it seemed.
SB 768 had “come back to life” and was scheduled to be voted on in the House Local and Consent Calendar—the next morning.
The chairman of the Local and Consent Calendars Committee is Senfronia Thompson (Democrat) of Houston. She’s been a representative for more than 40 years and is one of the most powerful members of the House. On Tuesday she made a motion to suspend the House rules so that her committee could meet and place certain legislation before the body the following day. Her motion carried, and her committee placed 131 bills on the Wednesday agenda that had supposedly died in the Local and Consent Calendars Committee the previous morning.
SB 768 was one of those bills. Just like that, the bill that would never die—that we had finally killed—had come back to life.
The one drawback and risk associated with placing a bill on the Local and Consent Calendar is that if a single legislator decides he doesn’t like it, he can rush to the back microphone and speak against the bill for 10 minutes. According to the rules this procedure would remove the bill from the Local and Consent Calendar and send it back to the original House committee that had recommended the bill be sent to the Local and Consent Calendars Committee.
But for a legislator to knock a bill from the Local and Consent Calendar was considered pretty gutsy. Not only would it make the chairman of the originating House committee look bad, since he had originally given it the erroneous “OK” as a non-controversial bill, but the bill’s author would view the legislator as the “killer” of his bill and might possibly try to retaliate.
We began sifting through names of likely candidates to do the deed for us. By midnight we could list a handful of representatives whom we felt would have the courage to pull off something like this.
The next morning Jeremy Newman and I hit the Texas Capitol bright and early and began combing the hallways with our list. We discreetly distributed our literature to offices that we felt would be sympathetic and we worked the representatives for almost an hour when we finally found our man.
Representative Jonathan Stickland invited us into his office and patiently listened as we explained the many flaws with SB 768. About halfway through our spiel he asked, “Will this make CPS mad?”
“Then tell me no more. I’ll do it.”
The House finally convened, and our entire THSC Watchmen team viewed the proceedings from the House Gallery, where we were joined by our friend, attorney Cecilia Wood. We watched as Representative Stickland walked to the back mic multiple times and knocked numerous Local and Consent bills to the bottom of the agenda, shaking up many members of the House establishment.
Finally, SB 768 was called up by the House speaker, and Stickland strode to the back mic and pronounced words that I will never forget: “Mr. Speaker, I intend to talk for 10 minutes, or 10 hours, or 10 days, or whatever it takes to make sure this bill does not become law.” Unsurprisingly, the House leadership was loathe to let the bill die so quickly, so they postponed it until after lunch.
Shortly after the lunch break our team, which was still seated in the gallery, watched Representative Stickland walk into the back hallway with the bill sponsor, Rep. Elliott Naishtat. Seconds later Cecilia Wood got a phone call; Stickland and Naishtat wanted to meet with us.
Naishtat gave the usual song and dance about why the House should pass the bill: CPS was missing out on money from the federal government. Finally, Stickland asked him how much money we were talking about, and for the first time we got a solid number: $2 million.
Two million dollars?!? That was it? This was almost laughable. In the grand scheme of things, two million dollars is almost nothing to the Texas Legislature—or to CPS, which has an annual budget of more than $1.25 billion.
Stickland was incredulous and said that for two million dollars he would never enact this legislation if it harmed even just one family, let alone thousands. Naishtat made one last appeal, saying that we should pass the bill and then fix its flaws during the interim, but we were firm in our stance that passing a bill without thinking through the consequences was irresponsible and no way to make laws. (Reminds me of a certain federal healthcare mandate, actually.)
With that, Stickland strode back onto the House floor and handed the parliamentarian a slip of paper with the signatures of four other representatives who were willing to kill the bill, and SB 768 died for good.Read the whole thing, including several examples of suspected Divine intervention, here.