Texas Catholic Voice Mar. 20, 2023

In this issue of the Texas Catholic Voice:

  • Hearings this week on parental choice ...
  • St. Joseph, pray for us! ...
  • And more!

A Message from Jennifer Allmon, Executive Director

Exciting developments at the Capitol to report this week! The first hearing for bills on parental choice in education will be on Wednesday, March 22, at 9:00 am. We will be testifying in support of Senator Brandon Creighton’s SB 8 and Senator Paul Bettencourt’s SB 2354 as well as registering our support for Senator Mayes Middleton’s SB 176 and Senator Angela Paxton’s SJR 29.   

The bishops' criteria for supporting parental choice legislation includes the following:  

  • a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, ensuring students with the greatest academic and financial need are first in line; 
  • academic accountability which requires accreditation and the administration of a norm- or criterion-referenced assessment each year (current practice at accredited schools); 
  • financial accountability through random audits of ESAs (Education Savings Account) by a third party; and 
  • protections for the privacy, autonomy and religious freedom of participating schools ensuring that educators are not required to modify their creed, practices, admissions policies, curriculum, performance standards, or assessments to serve ESA students. 

Tune in live at senate.texas.gov! 

We are enormously grateful for the support of our clergy; especially three pastors: Father Brian Eilers in Bryan/College Station, Father Greg Labus in Edinburg, and Father Chris Downey in Austin. Over the last six months, each of them organized events for Catholic parents to get involved in this effort. All three of their parishes are named for St. Joseph, and the feast of St. Joseph is today! So, we are dedicating our parental choice efforts to the foster father of Jesus and spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we ask that you pray for his intercession in passing this legislation. 

On Thursday, we testified in support of Toni Rose’s HB 12 which extends coverage for postpartum women receiving Medicaid to 12 months. Last December the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee reported 118 women died from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth in 2019, and that 90% of those deaths were preventable. This data is alarming and tragic and demonstrates how vulnerable pregnant women are, especially those who lack comprehensive healthcare. The bishops support HB 12 because it will save lives and help create healthy families. 

After this week’s hearing on HB 2127, we are pleased to report promising conversations with the author and other legislators. We believe improvements are being made to the bill. When a bill is formally changed such that our position changes, we announce it in an action alert and on our social media channels after we verify the new bill text in a committee sub or accepted amendment. 

Bills in Committee March 20-24  

House Higher Education Committee, Monday, 10:00 A.M.   

HB 15 / HJR 135 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson establishes the Mental Health and Brain Research Institute of Texas to create and expedite innovation in mental health and brain research. The TCCB supports this bill to improve the health of Texas residents and enhance the potential for a medical or scientific breakthrough in mental health and brain-related sciences and biomedical research.  

House Select on Youth Health & Safety Committee, Monday, 2:30 P.M.   

HB 16 by Rep. Joe Moody overhauls the state response to juvenile offenders, providing alternatives to incarceration, including community-based services which are more in line with the hallmark features of youth and the greater capacity of juveniles for change. The TCCB supports this bill to promote rehabilitation of youthful offenders.  

HB  18 by Shelby Slawson requires a digital service provider that targets or appeals to minors and collects personal identifying information (PII) of minors to ensure the prevention of physical, emotional, and developmental harm. It prohibits the collection of PII without parental consent and requires the provision of parental tools to monitor the child's activity. The TCCB supports this bill to help parents keep their children safe on-line.  

HB 98 by Rep. Moody allows a school to contract with a local mental health authority to provide mental health services on a campus of the district and allows the school district to enroll as a provider under the medical assistance program to provide and receive reimbursement for the provision of mental health services to students who are medical assistance recipients. The TCCB supports this bill to increase access to mental health services among students.  

HB 213 by Rep. Moody provides additional considerations for youthful offenders in consideration for release on parole. Among factors to be considered, the parole panel must assess the diminished culpability of juveniles, the hallmark features of youth, and the greater capacity of juveniles for change. The TCCB supports this bill to promote the reintegration of youthful offenders into society.  

HB 459 by Rep. Hull prohibits an officer performing law enforcement duties or school security personnel from restraining or using a chemical irritant spray on a student 10 years of age or younger unless the student poses a serious risk of harm to the student or another person. The TCCB supports this bill to ensure children are not needlessly restrained in schools.   

HB 1898 by Rep. Jetton creates a grant program to fund the provision of mental and behavioral health service to children by children’s hospitals. The TCCB supports this bill to increase mental health services to children.  

House Human Services Committee, Tuesday, 8:00 A.M.   

HB 1287 by Rep. Guillen adds an annual inflation adjustment to the value of a motor vehicle in determining a person's SNAP eligibility by excluding that vehicle from the resources of an applicant's household. The TCCB supports this bill to address food insecurity.  

HB 2572 by Rep. Lujan adds the child abuse findings from the Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to the Department of Family and Protective Services central registry of persons found guilty of child abuse and neglect. The TCCB supports this bill to improve the background check processes for child-serving agencies. 

House Public Education Committee, Tuesday, 8:00 A.M.  

HB 900 by Rep. Patterson requires the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, with approval of the State Board of Education, to adopt standards for school library collection development that prohibit the acquisition of harmful material. It also requires parental consent for a student to access certain material in a school library. The TCCB supports this bill to improve parents' ability to protect children from harmful, sexually explicit material.   

Senate Business and Commerce Committee, Tuesday, 8:30 A.M. 

SB 483 by Sen Johnson prohibits persons convicted of trafficking or sexual abuse from obtaining licenses as a massage establishment, school, therapist, or instructor. The TCCB supports this bill to reduce human trafficking.  

Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Tuesday, 8:30 A.M. 

SB 129 increases the criminal penalties for prosecution and punishment for the possession of child pornography.  There would also be penalty enhancements if the children depicted are younger than 10 years of age. The TCCB supports this bill to increase penalties for possession of child pornography.   

House Licensing and Administrative Procedures, Wednesday, 8:00 A.M. 

HB 2350 by Rep. Harris prohibits a political subdivision from adopting or enforcing an ordinance that requires a person to possess an occupational license issued by the political subdivision or any policy that is more stringent than or inconsistent with state law or a state licensing authority. The TCCB opposes this bill because the broad definition of "occupational license" could affect the efficacy of payday and auto-title lending ordinances that protect poor and vulnerable Texans. 

House Corrections Committee, Tuesday, 10:30 A.M. OR ADJ.  

HB 168 by Rep. Moody changes the designation of information related to any entity that manufactures, transports, tests, procures, compounds, prescribes, dispenses, or provides a substance or supplies used in an execution to “non-confidential.” As a result, the information including name or address would not be excepted from disclosure under the Public Information Act. The TCCB supports this bill to improve transparency surrounding drugs used in executions.  

House Criminal Jurisprudence, Tuesday, 10:30 A.M. OR ADJ. 

Subcommittee on Criminal Procedure  

HB 964 by Rep. Jetton includes an improper relationship between educator and student to the "reportable conviction or adjudication" definition for sex offender registration. The TCCB supports this bill as a child protection measure.  

House Select on Community Safety, Tuesday, 2:00 P.M. OR ADJ.  

HB 544 by Rep. Julie Johnson requires a law enforcement agency to report certain orders and convictions dealing with protective orders to the DPS and FBI for use in the National Instance Criminal Background Check System. A conviction for family violence that would prohibit a person from possessing a firearm under state or federal law must be reported to DPS and the FBI within five days after the date of judgment of conviction is entered. The TCCB supports this reasonable measure to address gun violence   

HB 2076 by Rep. Goodwin prohibits a person who has been convicted of Class A misdemeanor assault to misdemeanor assault against a member of a person's family or household to the persons described in the Family Code with regard to Dating Violence and the definitions of family and household, from possessing a firearm for the later of five years after release from confinement or release from community supervision.  The TCCB supports this reasonable measure to address gun violence  

Senate Education Committee, Wednesday, 9:00 A.M.  

SB 8 by Sen. Creighton improves parental rights in public schools and creates an education savings account program which will allow current public school students to have an $8,000 account to use toward private school tuition, tutoring, and educational expenses. The TCCB supports this bill and urges legislators to improve it by prioritizing those with the greatest academic and financial needs.  

SJR 29 by Sen. Paxton establishes a parent's right to direct a child's education including the right to: make reasonable choices within the public school system; choose an alternative to public education including private, parochial, or home school; access and view teaching materials, attend meetings of governing body of public school, access public school student records for the parent's child, and access and view academic assessment instruments provided the security of the test is protected prior to its administration. The TCCB supports this bill recognizing the parent as the primary educator of their child and the director of their educational path.  

SB 176 by Sen. Middleton allows any student in the state to access parental choice subject to available funding and prioritizes students with disabilities if there is limited funding. The TCCB supports this bill and encourages the legislature to make some improvements to accountability and to prioritize students with the greatest academic and financial need.  

SB 2354 by Sen. Bettencourt establishes an education savings account program to enable students with disabilities and low- and moderate-income families to pay for tuition and fees, uniforms, instructional materials, and other approved expenses outside the public school system. The TCCB supports this bill to increase access to educational options for the poor and vulnerable.  

House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues, Wednesday, 10:30 A.M. OR ADJ.   

HB 250 by Rep. Gonzalez allows for certain crime victims (e.g., victims of stalking, family violence, or stalking, dependents, a family member or household member of any victim) to receive crime victim assistance, including temporary and emergency lodging, expenses for transportation and meals, relocation expenses, and housing rental payments. The TCCB supports this bill to protect and restore victims of crime.  

House Transportation, Wednesday, 10:30 A.M. OR ADJ.  

HB 53 by Rep. Ed Thompson allows a vehicle used by a nonprofit disaster relief organization exclusively for emergencies, training, equipment maintenance, transportation of disaster relief supplies, or other activities related to disaster relief to be exempt from registration fees. The TCCB supports this bill to support disaster relief efforts.   

TCCB Advocacy day 2023 Save the date
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Upcoming Executions

Ivan Cantu, April 26

We are grateful a Texas court granted a stay of execution for Anibel Canales this past week. The Texas bishops ask for clemency for everyone on death row and pray for the abolition of the death penalty.  

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Pope Francis' prayer intention for March

For victims of abuse
We pray for those who have suffered harm from members of the Church; may they find within the Church herself a concrete response to their pain and suffering.

Prayer for the Legislature

Please pray for all our public servants and elected officials, including our Governor, Lt. Governor, House Speaker, lawmakers, and their staff, that the Lord may grant them wisdom and prudence to work for the common good of all the people of Texas.

The Texas Catholic Voice is a publication of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. For more information, write news@txcatholic.org or call 512-339-9882.