AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Montana Lance was 9 years old when he hanged himself in the nurse’s restroom at his elementary school in Lewisville. His parents say the school did not do enough to protect their son, who had been bullied for years.
Lance’s parents, Jason and Deborah, were among several witnesses who testified Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Education in support of legislation that would prohibit any form of bullying in Texas schools.
Bullying is the suspected cause of at least four Texas students who have taken their own lives since the 2009 legislative session.
“We need the Legislature to enact a bill this session,” Deborah Lance said. “If we have to wait for the next session, that’s two more years and eight more children’s deaths at the least. These children are dependent on us. Let’s not fail them the way the schools are failing them.”
A bill proposed by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, would change the state’s current practice of sending a bullying victim to another school, moving the aggressor elsewhere instead. The legislation also requires school officials to be trained to identify bullying signs and learn effective response methods.
“It’s incumbent upon all of us,” Davis said. “If we see something happening where young people in alarming numbers are taking their own lives, then we must get involved.”
Barbara Paris, a principal in Round Rock ISD testified that many educators feel like they’ve been left empty-handed when it comes to methods of effectively dealing with bullying.
“I felt like I had no backbone at my disposal to deal with cyber bullying,” said Paris, who’s been an educator for more than 30 years. “Kids won’t speak up because they’re afraid nothing will happen when they report bullying. The only way we can change that is if we have a law that backs us.”
The anti-bullying bills before the Senate committee expand the definition of bullying to specifically address electronic methods such as texting and Facebook posts.
“In this day and age, bullying is 24/7,” said Anne Wynne, co-chair of Equality Texas and chair of Atticus Circle. “If somebody does something from home that affects a child’s ability to be safe, our school districts and schools need to be able to address that.”
Manuel Quinto Pozos, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, cited Supreme Court rulings regarding off-campus speech in expressing concern that Davis’ bill would infringe on First Amendment rights of free speech away from school.
A Texas House committee has approved legislation opposing elements of the sweeping federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama last year.
One of the bills, approved Tuesday, says Texans do not have to buy health insurance, as the law would require for many Americans beginning in 2014. The health care law already has been challenged in federal court by Texas and other states.
The House Select Committee on State Sovereignty also approved a non-binding resolution expressing opposition to the health care legislation passed by Congress.
The law “infringes on the liberty of individuals by mandating that all citizens and legal residents of the United States obtain qualifying health care coverage or pay a tax penalty,” says the resolution, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Nacogdoches.
A third bill would require state agencies to compile reports on any activities associated with implementing the federal health care law. All three bills were approved unanimously in the committee and now head to the full House.
Democrats have said the committee is debating anti-Washington bills only to gain favor with tea-party conservatives and not to solve the state’s health care woes.
Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials are promoting legislation to toughen state penalties for human trafficking.
Perry attended a Tuesday news conference in Houston with state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. He said the legislation is needed to show the state won’t tolerate this “horrific crime.”
The legislation would amend trafficking laws in several ways, including making life sentences automatic for repeat offenders and providing civil remedies against traffickers.
Advocacy groups say Texas is a hotbed for such crimes because of its location and large migrant work force.
The legislation is to be voted on in the Texas Senate on Wednesday. If approved, it would then go to the House.
About 100 University of Texas students rallied at the Capitol to protest proposed budget cuts to higher education. In marching to the Capitol, the group chanted, “They say cut back, we say fight back.”
According to the student-run Invest in Texas campaign, current budget plans include slashing $381 million from financial aid programs among other cuts.
The students were joined by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo and Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who chair the Senate and House higher education committees.
“I will fight and work day and night to try and protect funding for higher education,” Zaffirini said. “Higher education must be a priority for the Texas Legislature.”
Earlier in the day, advocates for home health care for the elderly and disabled children rallied to protest cuts they say could slash care for more than 125,000 elderly and adults with disabilities and 3,100 medically fragile children.
BOOZING IT UP
The Senate passed two alcohol-related bills that could help raise money for the state and let people drink more wine.
The first requires package stores to report the final sales destination of the liquor they sell, similar to what they already do for beer, wine and malt liquor. Officials say they will allow proper auditing and tax collections that could help the state collect about $25 million more every year.
The second raises the limit of off-premises tasting room sales for Texas wineries.
from 35,000 gallons a year to 55,000 gallons.
According to a Senate analysis, the economic impact of the Texas wine industry grew from from $1.35 billion in 2007 to $1.7 billion in 2009.
In a personal privilege speech, Democratic Rep. Donna Howard of Austin thanked her colleagues for their professionalism during the recent election challenge against her. She won by four votes.
“Through all this scrutiny, there was no evidence of fraud” as had been alleged by Republican challenger Dan Neil, Howard said. Neil withdrew his challenge Friday.
Howard criticized the challenge because voters “who had done nothing more than exercised their civic duty for voting had to come before a judge” and testify about their vote.
“The sacredness of the vote is apparently not quite as sacred as I once thought,” she said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Instead of raising taxes on cigarettes or alcohol … they are sacrificing your future.” — Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, speaking to a student rally on proposed budget cuts to college financial aid.