After House roadblock, GOP senators revive bill limiting school discussions of race, social issues
May 29, 2021
Republican senators sprang into action Friday night to resurrect a GOP bill limiting how race can be discussed in the classroom, paving over a roadblock thrown up by a Round Rock Democrat in the House.
House Bill 3979 was endangered late Friday afternoon when Rep. James Talarico blocked a pending vote by successfully arguing that amendments added in the Senate violated House rules.
The bill was returned to the Senate, where Republicans acted quickly to address the procedural problem Friday night by stripping all Senate changes from HB 3979 and declaring the bill to have passed the Senate in the same form it was received from the House.
The party-line 18-13 vote came over the objection of Democrats, who argued that bills may not be passed after the midnight Wednesday deadline as set by the Texas Constitution, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick overruled their objections.
Talarico accused Patrick of bending to the pressure of "conservative megadonors" who favor the bill to revive a measure that micromanages teachers and stifles conversations about race in social studies and civics courses.
"It’s ironic that Lt. Gov. Patrick ignored the Texas Constitution to revive a bill about civics," Talarico said.
Afterward, Patrick took to Twitter to declare that the Senate saved the bill and put it on the "glide path" to Gov. Greg Abbott.
But the Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition called the Senate action, known as a motion to recede, an unprecedented and possibly unconstitutional move.
"The actions taken in the Senate tonight reveal just how politically motivated this piece of legislation actually is, and just how far removed it is from the real lives of teachers and students in Texas," the coalition, which focuses on racial equality, said in a statement.
The Republican authors of the broad legislation say it aims to prevent political agendas in schools and to ensure teachers present “diverse and contending perspectives.”
But education advocates have rallied against it, warning it would hinder discussions of history and current events and could prevent student civic engagement by banning schools from granting credit for student work with organizations that participate in political advocacy.
HB 3979 also would prohibit schools from accepting donations to develop curriculum grounded in the ideas of critical race theory and from mandating staff training or discussions with those ideas.
The legislation does not mention the theory, but its proponents have joined Republican calls against the academic framework focused on challenging systemic racism and white supremacy.
The Senate passed HB 3979 last week, adding a civics training program for teachers with an estimated price tag of nearly $15 million annually starting in 2023, according to the Texas Education Agency.
On Friday afternoon, Talarico questioned the bill's author, Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, for pushing the bill forward despite a Senate committee's decision to wipe out several Democratic amendments that aimed to condemn white supremacy and prevent the "white-washing of history."
"So is it fair to say that whoever removed that important language in the Senate condemning white supremacy does not want the history of white supremacy to be taught, and/or does not want our teachers to tell our students that white supremacy is morally wrong?" Talarico asked Toth, noting he could have instead opted for a conference committee of lawmakers from both chambers to hash out differences.
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Toth said Democrats such as Sen. Royce West of Dallas could have added language like that back in the Senate, but Talarico pressed on before raising a point of order challenging the bill.
"Why would anyone who believes white supremacy is wrong remove the part of the bill that says white supremacy is wrong?" Talarico said, leaving Toth speechless for a moment.