With the legislative session scheduled to kick off next week, here are five pre-filed bills that would move the state in the right direction. Stay tuned for future posts about other bills that support Texas children.
1. Senator Royce West’s SB 125, relating to certain assessments for children in the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services
As the legislature focuses on strengthening Child Protective Services this session, SB 125 would improve the assessment of children who are removed from their homes by CPS. Often, children in foster care receive a number of costly evaluations and psychotropic drugs; experience multiple placements; and never find stability, permanency, and healing. This bill would ensure children are more quickly matched with the services they need, placed in appropriate settings, and not assessed and reassessed at great cost to the state.
2. Senator Charles Schwertner’s SB 133, relating to mental health first aid training for school district employees and school resource officers
This legislation would build on a successful effort from the last legislative session to offer teachers training to better support students facing mental health challenges. The new bill would make the training available to other school personnel, including school police officers. The legislature and school districts should also work to make it easier for teachers and other personnel to attend the trainings.
3. Rep. James White's HB 431, relating to the creation of an advisory committee to examine the retention of juvenile justice records
A 19-year-old's efforts to get a job, find housing, or get into college shouldn't be hampered by a single mistake at age 15. But that and other problems can occur under the current patchwork of rules about how and when teens' juvenile justice records can be sealed from the public. The bill would form an advisory committee to examine the scenarios that arise and make sure that the process serves the best interest of the community and protects the due process rights of teens who turn their lives around.
4. Rep. Gene Wu’s HB 296, relating to certain prekindergarten programs offered by a school district
This bill would limit pre-K classes to 22 students or 11 students per teacher and teacher’s aide. Currently, the state sets no class size or ratio limits in pre-K. Research shows that pre-K can effectively help four-year-olds prepare for kindergarten and beyond, and provide a significant return on investment, but the state will only get that kind of bang for the buck when the quality of pre-K improves. As momentum builds to address pre-K this session, efforts to improve quality should be front and center.
5. Rep. Joe Deshotel’s HB 617, relating to the establishment of the office of early learning within the Texas Education Agency
Creating a state Office of Early Learning is another way to drive quality improvements in pre-K, along with boosting coordination with school districts, improving outreach to eligible families, and avoiding a repeat of the state’s recent inadequate pre-K funding application to the federal government. Since deep cuts in 2011, TEA has had just one staff person dedicated to the state’s pre-K program.
6. Senator Judith Zaffirini’s SB 26, relating to state government worksite breast-feeding policies, and Rep. Jessica Farrar’s HB 232, relating to the promotion of breast-feeding and the prohibition against interference with or restriction of the right to breast-feed
These bills require state agencies to develop policies supporting worksite breastfeeding, to the extent reasonably practicable. Additionally, HB 232 strengthens protections of a mother’s right to breastfeed in public. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for infants until approximately six months and continued breastfeeding until at least 12 months. The health benefits for babies include lower risk of respiratory infections, diabetes, and obesity.