2003 Legislative Recap: Grassroots Mobilization And Mainstream Bipartisanship Defy Radical Right Agenda And Political Power

by TFN Insider
June 2, 2003

Austin, TX The 78th Texas Legislative session demonstrates that mainstream values and grassroots advocacy can triumph over the ideological agenda of far right extremists, said the Texas Freedom Network.This year, a record number of mainstream Texans spoke out against the Religious Right’s dangerous agenda. Texas lawmakers responded by rejecting most of the far right’s policy initiatives, which would have hurt Texas children and families.“In a very challenging session, a majority of legislators rebuked the far right’s extremist agenda,” said Samantha Smoot, Executive Director of the Texas Freedom Network. “At the end of the day, common sense overcame dogma.”

“When Texas is facing a $10 billion deficit and being forced to cut billions from public education, we cannot afford to even consider ideological agendas like vouchers and virtual schools,” Smoot continued. “Voting against these measures was the right thing to do for Texas and our public schools.”

Legislative initiatives of the Religious Right defeated in 2003 include:

· Vouchers HB 293, HB 658 and HB 2465 would have established a private school voucher program and drained millions from public school classrooms across the state.
· Virtual Schools HB 1554, SB 933 and a late amendment to HB 411 would have created “virtual” charter schools where the state would pay for classes, a personal computer, printer and Internet access for home schooled, private school and public school students.
· Rollback of State Education Standards HB 859 and HB 973 would have eliminated virtually all state education standards including class size limits, teacher certification, curriculum, and parental rights.
· Textbook Censorship HB 1172 and HB 1447 would have granted the SBOE more authority over textbook content, raising concerns about textbook censorship and “whitewashing” history.
· State Board of Education Authority HB 607 and HJR 34 would have granted the SBOE the power to appoint the Commissioner of Education, the power to overturn any decision by the commissioner or TEA, and “primary responsibility for adopting education policies and…directing public education” in Texas.
· Charter School Accountability HB 2224 would have eroded charter school accountability measures enacted in 2001.
· Covenant Marriage HB 1795 would have made it more difficult for victims of domestic abuse to obtain a divorce.
· Licensing Exemption for Faith-Based Childcare HB 1415 would have allowed faith-based childcare facilities to avoid state licensing and oversight, and would have brought the controversial Roloff Homes back to Texas.
· Anti-gay Foster Care and Adoption HB 194, HB 1911 and HB 914 would have made it illegal for gay and lesbian individuals to serve as foster or adoptive parents.

In the end, the radical right scored mostly symbolic victories, including passage of the Defense of Marriage Act and a mandatory moment of silence for public school children. The exception is the dramatic erosion of reproductive freedoms for the women of Texas.

“2003 should be remembered as the year that the far right captured political power but failed to capture the will of mainstream Texans,” concluded Smoot.