Monday, March 24, 2008

SB162 - Rep. O'Neill Did Not Support The Language Changes Made By The Education Committee Chairs

Rep. Arthur O'Neill published a statement today about the changes to the parental rights bill that came out of the Education Committee last week.

Despite the claims made from Education Committee Chair Senator Gaffey and Rep. Debra Lee Hovey, that Rep. O'Neill "was o.k." with the changes, Rep. O'Neill clearly states that he did not support the changes that they made.

So let's recap:

1. O'Neill proposes a bill which upholds parents rights. It merely says that when a parent sends a letter of withdrawal to a school administrator by certified mail, that the school must accept it and remove the child from enrollment. That correctly should be placed in the statute addressing Duties of Boards of Education (CGS 10-220). It is simple and uncomplicated and fixes the problem that parents have had, which was that when they sent a letter of withdrawal to the school - it was summarily ignored and the child was kept on the enrollment lists so that the child could be reported as truant. It is necessary to add here that parents who have attempted to withdraw their children to put them in private school as well as those who choose to homeschool have been affected by this abuse of authority by public school administrators.

2. Senator Meyer from the Children's committee sends the bill to LCO to be formally drafted and given a number.

This is what the LCO is supposed to do:
The Legislative Commissioners' Office ("LCO") serves legislators and other officials by (1) drafting legislation that expresses legislative intent in clear, concise and constitutionally sound language, (2) providing legal counsel, (3) publishing legislative documents, and (4) carrying out all other duties assigned by law to the Legislative Commissioners' Office.

3. LCO sends it back with totally different language and changes the bill entirely (where did THAT language come from? Gee, it looked a lot like the language proposed to O'Neill by Education Commissioner McQuillan which we rejected). The bill did not at all in any way reflect the legislative intent of Rep. O'Neill or Senator Meyer. In fact it changed the whole meaning of the bill entirely and affected a totally different statute, which was CGS 10-184 (Duties of Parents).

4. The Children's Committee holds a public hearing. Parents and legislators come out and testify with enormous support of the original language and no one comes to testify any opposition to the original language.

5. The Children's Committee unanimously votes the bill out of committee in the original form (O'Neill's language) that was sent to LCO. The bill is then referred to the Education Committee. The bill continues to gain strong bi-partisan support, and many legislators sign on as co-sponsors to O'Neill's language. Senator Meyer hand writes a firm request to the Education Committee Chair NOT to change the bill's language.

6. The Education Committee Chairs refuse to raise the bill in it's original form proposed by Rep. O'Neill and approved by the Children's Committee, and threaten not to raise the bill in committee at all if anyone proposes an amendment to it to put back the original language. There is no chance for a public hearing on the new language and the new language was not even known to the public until the committee began its proceedings. So the Education Committee Chairs raise the bill with the bad language that was rejected by everyone else before, and they tell the members that Rep. O'Neill "was o.k." with the changes. Parents in the room sit in disbelief as many members who supported Rep. O'Neill's language reluctantly pass the bad language just to keep the bill moving along. Some legislators meet with parents afterward and offer to help "make things right".

7. We find out that people working for the Department of Education helped draft those bill changes. The language was essentially forced through the committee despite objections from parents and legislators alike.

8. Rep. O'Neill makes a statement saying that he did not support the changes made by the Education Committee.

This action by the Education Committee Chairs is appalling. This is not how we are supposed to be "represented" in the halls of the Capitol. It is disconcerting to see how a State agency who has been the perpetrator behind harassment of parents and encouraging school administrators to make false claims of abuse and neglect to DCF can have the power to manipulate a committee of people and affect legislation in this manner. This is a travesty and should be investigated fully. It tramples the notion of "Consent of the Governed" that our republic is built upon.

The form of the bill that was passed out of the Education Committee essentially does nothing to fix the problems parents have encountered when withdrawing their children from public school, nor does it change the statute 10-220 (Duties of Boards of Education) to make schools obligated to accept a withdrawal letter and then immediately take their child off of the enrollment list. Instead it creates many changes to 10-184 (Duties of Parents) and dictates new reporting requirements to parents who choose to withdraw in order to home educate. It discriminates against parents who desire to homeschool and singles them out among parents who wish to withdraw their children from public school and subjects them to unnecessary regulation filled with the ability for schools to exercise subjective judgments and arbitrary decisions regarding whether a parent can withdraw their child or not. It gives schools the power and whim to approve or disapprove of a parents choice to homeschool, thereby removing a right that parents have already had since the 1650's. A parent should be able to withdraw their child from a system that does not serve their children without answering to that system. It is the equivalent of being forced to ask your spouse for approval and permission of a divorce after you have been beaten repeatedly by that spouse.

We will be working to put the original language back into the bill as it heads to the Senate floor and ultimately to the House.

We think there should be an ethics investigation.

We think the legislative process has been compromised and negates the voice of the people and of the legislators who proposed to move this bill along to begin with, and we do not believe that it is proper for members of the Department of Education to manipulate the Education Committee in the manner which has been so extremely evident here. To us that is a clear violation of the separation of the legislative and executive branch of government.

This breach should not and will not be taken lightly.

If you are a concerned parent in the state of CT it is advised that you write or otherwise communicate your concerns to your legislator and even the Governor if need be.

SB162 - with the original language as proposed by Rep. O'Neill and passed by the Children's Committee should be passed in the Senate, and to do that the bill must now be amended again.