Young lobbyists push for home-school, parental rights

Mar 12, 2013 by

Six young men in suits sit around a table in the library in the Capitol. One hands a short stack of white papers to another. He takes a brief look at the cover sheet, looks back up and begins pumping his fist and mouthing, “Yeah!”

It’s a bill, just filed by state Sen. Donna Campbell, that the team of lobbyists — some of the youngest registered in the state — has been fighting for since the Legislature convened in January.

The group of home-schooled graduates, ages 19 to 23, call themselves the Watchmen, a reference to Isaiah 62:6: “On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent.”

They lobby on behalf of the Texas Home School Coalition — and an estimated 300,000 home-schoolers in Texas — and they have been anything but silent this week, making the rounds to House and Senate offices and speaking at a Senate committee hearing.

Most of them put college on hold to work this session, where they have been pushing two main pieces of legislation: A “Tim Tebow” bill that would allow home-schoolers to participate in University Interscholastic League events, and another that they say would bolster parental rights. Campbell’s bill is the latter.

Their interests and pursuits vary widely. One member, Nathan Exley, is studying rangeland ecology at Texas A&M, while others want to become lawyers. But they are unified by the fact that they were home-schooled — something they say can be alienating.

“Being home-schooled is this thing where certain kids look at you like you have a stigma,” said Paul Hastings, the 23-year-old leader of the group. “You always have this drive where you want people to know you’re normal.”

They want the option to raise their children the way their parents raised them.

“I’m working for my kids right now,” Hastings said.

This is Hastings’ second session to lobby for the Texas Home School Coalition.

Before the 2011 session, coalition President Tim Lambert saw Hastings speak at home-schooling book fair and was impressed. He asked Hastings to spend 10 hours a week working with him at the Capitol. Ten hours a week became 60 hours a week, Hastings said.

Lambert saw how well Hastings worked and asked him to gather a group of people his age to intern for the coalition this session. Hastings recruited most of the Watchmen from speech and debate clubs he was in. The group includes Jeremy Newman, Ben Snodgrass, Trent Williams and David Huber.

They live in an apartment in Austin, which the coalition pays for, and work 40 to 50 hours a week, sifting through thousands of bills to decide which they support or oppose, as well as urging elected officials to push legislation.

The members have made sacrifices to take the unpaid internship.

Hastings, who is from Lago Vista, took a hiatus from Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey, where he was studying business administration. He says all the time working for the coalition has already dragged out his senior year for two years. Newman, who is earning college credit by taking CLEP tests, has put that on hold. Exley is taking a semester off.

But the group says the experience makes it worthwhile.

“It’s a desire to have some sort of impact,” Newman said.

So far the group has been relatively successful, at least in getting bills filed.

State Rep. Harold Dutton, a Democrat from Houston, filed a bill that would allow home-schooled students to participate in UIL events. The coalition has been pushing such legislation for more than a decade, and several states across the country have passed similar legislation, dubbed “Tim Tebow” bills for the NFL quarterback who was home-schooled.

The bill filed Wednesday by Campbell, a freshman Republican senator whose district includes parts of Travis County, would restrict a state law that allows grandparents to sue parents for access or possession of children.

These are the types of bills that capture the attention of the Watchmen. As they push for home-schooled children to have the same opportunities as their public school peers, they see themselves as defenders of parental rights. The group has flagged 60 bills in the House and 10 in the Senate. Mostly dealing peripherally with parental rights, the bills address immunizations, driver’s education, Child Protective Services, breastfeeding and more.

Neither Dutton’s nor Campbell’s bills have received a committee hearing, the first step before they would go to either the House or Senate for approval.

The group has not lost hope.

“I think we have a really, really good chance,” Newman said.

via Young lobbyists push for home-school, parental rights | www.statesman.com.

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