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Agenda Texas: Citizen Lobbyists Walking the Halls

There’s a perception, not unjustified, that it takes a high-priced high-powered lobbyist to get a bill passed in the Texas Legislature. But people still try to get something done with an army of volunteers. Some who are still in elementary school.

Around 100 kids from across the state came to Austin for the Texas Home School Coalition's rally day. The kids spent the day learning about the legislative process, yes they got school credit for participating, and to help support home school legislative efforts.

The day included tips on making an office visit at the Capitol.


“We really do encourage families to let their younger children do the most of the talking," THSC Policy Director Paul Hastings said. "One of the best things that legislators love about homeschoolers is that the kids are articulate, that they’ll look you in the eye and they’re not afraid to talk."

And the crowd got a pep-talk from coalition president Tim Lambert.

“We will always have a danger of the state wanting to regulate us," Lamber said. "The advantage we have today is, again because of your participation, we can do a pretty good job beating up on people.”

Although Lambert did caution not to threaten any lawmakers who opposed the bill of the day.

That would be House Bill 1374, filed by Harold Dutton (D-Houston). It would allow homeschool students to participate in University Interscholastic League activities that public school students do, like sports, academic and fine arts competitions.

Walking the Halls

Sisters Jennet, Katy and Elizabeth Dillard went over strategy before and practiced their lines before heading off to visit lawmaker offices.

“There’s 27 state’s that allow homeschoolers to participate in UIL sports and music," Katy said.

Jennet chimed in with a stat on the schools that don't allow homeschoolers. Then the group discussed whether they needed to list any of the other states...or just focus on Texas.

"...Right Texas most importantly because we’re all from Texas,” Katy argued.

Armed with talking points and information packets to share, the sisters trudged from office to office, marking down whether or not the lawmaker they just visited would be likely to vote for the bill.

“So I guess we would say he’s undecided maybe," Katy said.

"Well she seemed supportive of it. I felt positive," Elizabeth responded.

Not to diminish their excitement, but the Home School Coalition was just one of several groups making office visits that day. Not to mention the dozens of groups that make it to Austin each week. Oh, and there are still those high-priced lobbyists roaming the halls.

Following Up with the Professionals

Hundreds of kids fanning out across the capitol asking for support is great, but you can’t do that every day. And “out of sight” can be “out of mind” when a bill vote is on the horizon. That’s where the professional lobbyists for the Texas Homeschool Coalition, like Paul Hastings, take over.

“So we take all the data, we enter it into a massive spreadsheet and then we analyze...this office is a no vote, we need to flip that office or this office is a yes vote, we don’t need to visit them again," Hastings said.

The UIL participation bill is at the top of the THSC wish list, but there’s plenty more to watch during a session. Coalition president Tim Lambert is focused on the broader issue of parental rights.

“Obviously we argue that we ought to be able to homeschool because we’re the parent and we ought to be able to make that decision," Lambert said.

To that end, it’s up to Lambert, Hastings and 5 full time volunteers to follow any bill they worry could restrict parental rights. There are a few bills that amend the Grandparents Parental Rights statute which sets parameters for how a grandparent can step in and take a grandchild.

“And we tell legislators and they say, ‘why are you guys doing this?’ And we say well because in some of these cases homeschooling was the decision that that grandparent disagreed with," Lambert said.

But for now the focus is on UIL participation. That bill is still waiting on its chance to get in the game.

Got any questions about the Legislative process? Send them to  AgendaTexas@kut.org

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Ben Philpott covers politics and policy for KUT 90.5 FM. He has been covering state politics and dozens of other topics for the station since 2002. He's been recognized for outstanding radio journalism by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and twice by the Houston Press Club as Radio Journalist of the Year. Before moving to Texas, he worked in public radio in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and at several television stations in Alabama and Tennessee. Born in New York City and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Philpott graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in broadcast journalism.