House Bill 400 — new life for dead legislation
With only a couple more weeks before the close of the regular session of the Texas Legislature, the pressure to get something of substance accomplished is intense. After almost five months, there is very little to show among the hundreds of bills introduced, parsed, investigated, discussed and debated that will improve the educational life of school kids. Last Thursday was a very important day in the life of the session, though.
That was the deadline date for any bill in the House of Representatives to be heard on second reading. Without that recognition, a bill is considered dead.
There are still opportunities, though, for so-called “dead bills” to get resuscitated. That happens when the bill’s author clips the erstwhile dead bill as an amendment on a bill that is still under consideration. There should be a relationship between the original bill and the amendment, but legislators generally are given a great deal of latitude in attaching amendments.
One example: A bill authored in the House by Scott Hochberg had the intent of allowing a student who transferred into a new school district to skip the usual period of ineligibility for athletic participation if the school he was coming from did not offer the sport the student wished to play. When that bill made it to the Senate for consideration, Dan Patrick attached an amendment to it that would allow private schools to participate in UIL activities at all classifications.
When the Thursday midnight deadline arrived, some intent watchers were happy to see HB 400 still unheard, thus dead. HB 400 is the bill authored by Rep. Rob Eissler. Unlike some other large and far-reaching bills, HB 400 hasn’t been given a nickname that sticks. It is the omnibus bill that would give some much-needed flexibility to local school districts in dealing with the expected state budget cuts. The bill would allow districts to lower salaries, use the 22:1 class size ratio as an average, use furlough days to lower expenditures, use their websites for compliance with notification requirements and several other options that would allow districts to spend less.
There was very strong resistance on HB 400 by many groups who fear that the provisions would become permanent and thus remove some of the gains and improvements Texas school employees have achieved over the past several years. The frustrating point, though, is that without the flexibility of HB 400, the only way to deal with the funding shortfall expected in the next biennium will be to cut jobs. For example, EISD’s cost-savings plan would glean $1.5 million, with $600,000 of that based on the anticipation of using four days of furlough. Without furlough, we still must make up that $600,000 and that will mean whole jobs cut, not just slightly lowered salaries.
The concern that the provisions of HB 400 might become permanent is understandable, and I share that concern. On the other hand, I would welcome any and all options in hunting ways to deal with the shortfall. The “death” of HB 400 takes away many of the options we need.
Eissler promises to use the amendment process to attach HB 400 to every bill he can in an attempt to get some of its measures passed. While bits and pieces of the bill getting passed may be preferred to no flexibility at all, a comprehensive and well-constructed plan would have been a far better outcome.
Barbara Qualls is the superintendent of the Ennis Independent School District.