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Parental Rights Bill Heading For House Floor Vote

 Two parents with their child between them, all holding hands, on a beach
Natalya Zaritskaya
Two parents with their child between them, all holding hands, on a beach

The bill is called the Parents Bill of Rights and it gives parents ultimate say in the direction of their child’s education and healthcare planning. Supporters argue the bill clarifies what’s already supposed to happen, but opponents worry the measure may open the door to discriminate against LGBTQ and minority students and allow parents to opt out of immunizations and health exams.

“It can be frustrating at times being a minor and knowing there are certain things my parents won’t allow me to do. But I know that I will look back…I will praise God and praise my parents for protecting them from evil," 14-year-old Anna Catherine Hammot testified before the House committee hearing the bill. She was brought by her parents.

On the other side, progressive activists like Lakey Love, concerned with language in the bill that allows parents complete access to all school records for their child.

“We strongly oppose this bill on the grounds it would force professionals inside the school system to out students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, thus creating a more hostile and unsafe school atmosphere for LGBTQIA children," Love said.

The proposal, House Bill 131, says parents have ultimate decision-making authority on issues of education, physical and mental health-- but with exceptions. Bill sponsor, Republican Rep. Erin Grall, believes some of the criticism is due to a misunderstanding of the bill—specifically when it comes to how schools, considered mandatory reporters by the state) report child abuse or suspected crimes:

“This bill says you have an obligation to tell their parents that a crime has been committed against their child if you have not called DCF and law enforcement, because if you’re not going to follow your obligation as a mandatory reporter, then you should at least let someone know.”

Grall says the bill clarifies what schools can and cannot do, given that each district sets its own policy.

“We’ve seen the complexity of the bureaucracy…I have a law degree. It’s still challenging to get through the bureaucracy. Parents shouldn’t need a lawyer to get through the bureaucracy of our agencies and institutions that interact with our children.”

The LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida is concerned parents could abuse the broad language the bill offers by using school information to “out” their children. The organization's John Harris Mower says not every parent is supportive.

“Its not just about sexual orientation and gender identity. We know that students can also disclose other things they’re seeing in the home…and compelling these educators to disclose that information to parents could endanger these young people.”

Republican Rep. Randy Fine pushed back on those claims, saying parents are already entitled to their children’s school records. The bill has been circulating in the legislature for a decade. Patty Sullivan with Parental Rights Florida has been pushing the bill for about as long.

“Government is not the parent of our children," said Sullivan. "Our legislators can now lead the effort in passing this common sense bill to provide clarity to the parents, the agencies and to these other entities that really need clarity.”

The bill cleared the House Hearing on a party line vote, and is now heading to that chamber’s floor. It has one more committee stop in the Senate, where it was defeated last year.

Copyright 2021 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative.
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