Georgia’s Legislators Feel the Heat, Amend Bad Bill
by Dan Beasley • March 19, 2019
The temperature rose dramatically in the small committee hearing room in Atlanta as all the available seats were taken and soon standing room became scarce.
Representative Mandi Ballinger, chairman of the Juvenile Justice Committee, announced that there would be a delay to the start of the hearing for logistical reasons. Legislators wove their way through the crowd to take their seats at the front of the room.
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Moments later, law enforcement officers entered and, after quickly assessing fire safety, began searching for an alternative meeting space.
Fortunately, a larger room was available. Unfortunately, it was still too small. But it was cooler.
The heat, both literal and metaphorical, was due to the large crowd that had assembled thanks to a confluence of events. Homeschool Day at the Capitol, in which parents bring their students to meet legislators and learn about the legislative process, just happened to coincide with a hearing on a bill that would have burdened homeschooling families.
Chairman Ballinger gave a friendly welcome to the “junior members of the public,” (homeschooled students) and then invited Representative Bill Hitchens to present House Bill 530 for members of the Juvenile Justice Committee.
As introduced, H.B. 530 would require homeschooling parents to submit additional information to local public school authorities, such as a student’s prior attendance and disciplinary history. Additionally, it would effectively task local school staff with determining a parent’s purpose for homeschooling when withdrawing a child from public school. Representative Hitchens’ intent was to catch those who withdraw a child from school with no intention of homeschooling, but the proposal would affect all homeschooling families.
The bill was introduced in the wake of a chilling account of two children who died at the hands of their parents and other relatives in Effingham County.
What happened in Effingham County was appalling, but hundreds of families took exception to regulating law-abiding, caring homeschooling families as a means of preventing a repeat atrocity.
While he acknowledged that the Effingham County case was an aberration, Representative Hitchens felt some legislative response was necessary.
Wednesday morning before the hearing, hundreds of homeschooling parents and students flooded the Capitol halls and met with elected officials to share concerns about the overbroad, burdensome provisions in H.B. 530.
The committee listened.
During the committee hearing, several legislators raised concerns about the bill’s scope, and Representative Hitchens responded that he was open to significant amendments.
The presence of so many homeschooling families and the barrage of persuasive advocacy pointing out the bill’s flaws paved the way for HSLDA and GHEA to share in more detail our concerns about the bill.
While I was waiting to testify, I was asked to step into a meeting room and share HSLDA’s concerns with Representative Hitchens and other members of the committee. During these discussions, GHEA President Joe Stone and I explained how H.B. 530 would harm legitimate homeschooling families. In response, the committee members in the meeting agreed to amend the bill again to eliminate its flaws.
Late Wednesday evening, Representative Andrew Welch read into the record a committee substitute bill that removed all the language that would have added additional burdens on homeschooling families.
Thursday, the committee unanimously recommended the modified bill and it passed the full house on Friday.
Your support was critical to protecting homeschool freedom in Georgia. And it still is.
H.B. 530 was introduced in the Senate and has been referred to the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
HSLDA and GHEA will continue monitoring H.B. 530 and notify you of any additional amendments that threaten homeschooling freedom in Georgia.
To view the current text and the status of H.B. 530, click here.