Parents know best.
Government, not so much.
That was the clear message sent by the Florida House Education Committee on Thursday, when a bipartisan majority offered its strong support for legislation deemed the “Parents Bill of Rights” by sponsor Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican who first offered a similar bill a year ago.
With HB 1059, Grall aims to create a new chapter of state law that has a core goal of describing parents’ fundamental rights to control their children’s education, health care and other aspects of upbringing. It stresses that the government may not infringe upon such rights without “demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest” in a very narrow way.
The bill would require, among other things, school district procedures for parents to opt their children out of lessons and materials they find objectionable. It would mandate schools have set ways for parents to learn about all clubs and activities. It would bar the withholding of information from parents, and set penalties for any government employee who tries to do so.
“This is all about empowering parents,” Grall told the committee. “I have heard from parents that the bureaucracy just wears them down. They don’t know where to go.”
Government systems, established over decades, make it difficult for many to interact and get answers, she said. Parents have been marginalized along the way.
“That means you have to have a shift in the culture,” Grall said, explaining the rationale for her bill.
Representatives from several groups including Planned Parenthood and Human Rights Watch submitted speaker cards, but did not make comments to the panel. Most simply announced their opposition.
That prompted Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, to ask for more detailed explanations why they did not like the measure. Only two stepped up to the microphone.
Melina Rayna Barratt of Florida NOW said the measure would empower parents to mistreat LGBTQ children, who are at great risk of self harm.
“You’re saying parents have rights,” Barratt said. “Parents have responsibilities to provide a safe, accepting household for their kids. Please go against this bill.”
A handful of other speakers offered support for the measure.
Bev Kilmer of the conservative Freedom Speaks Coalition said schools have introduced many “inappropriate” programs that parents have found upsetting. Yet when parents seek more details, the districts often are not helpful, she said.
“This bill will solve that issue, or at least take us a long way,” she said.
Her perspective found a welcoming audience within the committee, where only two members opposed the bill. One of them was Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, who deemed the legislation duplicative and unnecessary.
School systems have rules like the ones suggested, Valdes said. “Parents do have rights already.”
The overwhelming sentiment among the committee, though, was one of disappointment that such a bill is needed, and strong support to get it done.
“Parents bring their children into the world. Parents pay bills. Parents should have rights to raise their children,” said Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville. “I don’t want the government telling me how to raise my children.”
Rep. Delores Hogan-Johnson, a Fort Pierce Democrat, said the proposal was vague. She noted that many parents rely on schools to educate and discipline their children, and then complain about it.
But perhaps the bill would serve as a wakeup call for parents and agencies alike, Hogan-Johnson said, to do better.
Some parents might never wish to take advantage of their rights, Donalds said. But for those who wish to be involved, and want to maintain control of their children’s growth to adulthood, “this is critical for them.”
The bill next moves to the Health and Human Services committee. An identical version in the Senate is awaiting its first hearing.