Negotiated Parents’ Rights Bill

House and Senate Republicans continue to negotiate a proposed “parental bill of rights,” but the two houses face wide differences over the controversial legislation.

The original version, from the House, would establish a host of rights for parents, including the right to direct their child’s education in public school, to review curricula, to access all school records relating to their child and to be notified if an employee suspects that a crime has been committed against the child.

The version passed by the Senate would go further, requiring the school to notify parents whenever their child joins a class, club or sports team, or seeks medical care or advice, as well as whenever a school employee had “taken action”. involving school policies related to a student’s “gender expression and identity”.

This latest version, which was passed by the Senate according to parties earlier this month and has been opposed by LGBTQ+ rights groups and Democrats, will be up for debate in the coming weeks. Critics said the measure would effectively force schools to “reveal” a student’s gender identity to their parents.

In a vote earlier this month, the House declined to approve a Senate version of the bill, House Bill 1431, referring the matter to a “conference committee” to find a compromise.

Now three members of the Senate – Senator Sharon Carson, a Republican from Londonderry, Senator Bill Gannon, a Republican from Sandown, and Senator Becky Whitley, a Democrat from Hopkinton – are assigned to work with four House members – the Rep. Kimberly Rice, a Republican from Hudson, Rep. Debra DeSimone, a Republican from Atkinson, Rep. Jodi Nelson, a Republican from Derry, and Rep. Denise Smith, a Republican from Pelham — to arrive at this compromise.

The conference committee on the Parental Bill of Rights began Tuesday at 2 p.m. Committee members must reach a conclusion by 4 p.m. Thursday, at which time the committee must either propose a compromise or signal that no agreement could be reached. The entire House and Senate would then have the opportunity to vote on any proposed compromise.

At least one House Republican member of the committee has expressed concerns about the Senate changes – particularly the requirement for schools to notify parents of their children’s decisions to seek counseling or explore their gender identity .

“The main issue for me is that … it says in the bill that counselors or teachers or whoever has to tell or report to parents all discussions with this student,” DeSimone said in an interview Friday. “Well, that’s great in a perfect world. We don’t have a perfect world. We have abusive parents. We have parents who are neglectful. We can’t risk asking a child to go to a counsellor, to talk about feeling suicidal because of parental abuse, because he has nowhere to go, things like that.

It’s unclear whether that opposition will be shared by DeSimone’s other House Republican members on the committee. Committee chair Rice was not immediately available for comment on Friday.

The Senate introduced the amendment requiring schools to notify parents of a student’s chosen gender identity in the classroom relatively late in the process, and the language was not the subject of a hearing public. Senate Republicans say the measure would allow parents to be kept informed of their child’s struggles or interest in their gender identity, and argued it could allow parents to connect with their children .

The amendment has been widely opposed by LGBTQ+ rights groups, civil rights advocates, teachers’ unions and Democrats, who say it will interfere with a child’s ability to explore issues about their gender identity without worrying that their parents will find out.

DeSimone echoed that concern.

“If the parent isn’t responsive, it’s just going to cause more problems with the child,” DeSimone said. “So I think that aspect needs to be addressed – seriously addressed.”

Speaking on Friday, Whitley, the only Democrat on the conference committee, said she would oppose both the House and Senate versions of the bill of parental rights, arguing that both could interfere with the children’s rights.

Whitley pointed to the opposition the House version had received from the director of the Children, Youth and Families Division, Joe Ribsam, who told House lawmakers in a letter that the draft law could impede the ability of schools to conduct child protection investigations. The state’s former children’s advocate, Moira O’Neill, also spoke out against the bill, days before her retirement.

Whitley argues that the previous version could give “abusive parents a free license” and said the House version “still has big problems”.

Carson attempted to amend the bill by adding language stating that the new law does not “restrict the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Children, Youth and Families” and does not does not allow parents to abuse their children. House lawmakers rejected this amendment and all other Senate amendments when they voted against the Senate amendments, but it may survive through the conference committee process.

Whitley’s opposition could mean she will be replaced on the committee; the Speaker of the House and Senate Republicans are authorized to exchange appointed members of their own chambers in order to bring the conference committee to a desired agreement.

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