HB1214 and its Senate counterpart SB1194 are currently being brought before committees in the Tennessee General Assembly and will most likely make their way to the Governor’s desk. These bill components were originally filed as a “caption bill”, or a placeholder that is a just a few innocuous sentences. The thought behind such an action is to keep prying eyes from the actual purpose of a bill and also make it quickly amendable into content that otherwise may be repulsive to some groups.
For better understanding, all bills filed in the General Assembly of Tennessee have several steps and requirements to move forward in the process of becoming a law. One of the first steps is to create a description of what the bill is or a “caption” as defined by the General assembly, “Caption: Brief description of a bill’s contents appearing on a bill and the bill’s jacket. A bill’s content cannot be any broader than its caption.”
This practice of running “caption bills” has become the go-to legislative trick Tennessean lawmakers use when they need to keep a bill from unwanted publicity. The description of the bill filed often removes it from any scrutiny by legislative watchdogs. These bills are carefully worded to remove any red flags that might otherwise stop a controversial bill from moving forward. The controversial bill in question is easily disguised as another topic or a less controversial issue.
Procedurally, a bill is only able to cover a topic that is listed in the originating caption. Once an “education” bill is filed, in theory legislators can’t go back and make that a bill taking away “gun rights”. Or at least that is the theory.
HB1214 is a bill that started out listed as a homeschooling bill; however, with over a dozen pages of amendments it is now a bill that will provide boarding schools for underprivileged students. The bill has been led by the leaders of the House and Senate so there is no reason to think this bill will not become law.
Another recent instance of a caption bill being exploited occurred when a bill, initially intended to allocate funds for a monument honoring abortion victims in Tennessee. Yet this caption bill was covertly modified to undermine Tennessee’s stringent surgical abortion prohibition.
HB1214 is simply the new “abused caption bill of the week.” And at this point it has been revised with new amendments to remove all references to homeschooling. The content we are left with is very similar to bills that have been run in other states like California, Maryland and Virginia that now empower hybrid public-private entities to keep children in boarding schools 365 days a year.
Homeschooling and sending underprivileged children to a boarding schools are two very different approaches to life and education. Homeschooling has a grassroots group of backers while the other is being promoted by very liberal and very wealthy groups like SCORE. These differences make it odd that the state is attempting to group these two types of education into a single bill.
Homeschooling involves a high level of involvement from the child’s family, while boarding schools provide a more independent learning environment with less direct involvement from parents. Boarding schools are thus ripe for becoming state indoctrination centers. While these topics may be both about education, neither topic can meet the description of the original caption. “Local Education Agencies – As introduced, changes, from five days to five business days, the amount of notice a local board of education member must give the board before a scheduled meeting of the member’s intent to participate in the meeting electronically because the member is or will be out of the county at the time of the meeting. – Amends TCA Title 49.“
Regardless of the differences between these educational models, one thing that Tennessee’s General Assembly understands is that homeschooling families do not want government intervention and involvement in their child’s education, which is the reason their children are homeschooled in the first place. And our state lawmakers know very well that these parents speak up on homeschooling issues. Therefore, it is not a stretch to think the outcry before legislators in the form of thousands of calls and emails would have been expected.
So when the bill sponsors graciously removed all references to homeschooling, did that show the true intentions of this bill? Was this the plan all along to deceive and divert attention? When did the people who are pushing this effort in other states come before public committees to talk on this subject? What can we expect from children who are indoctrinated 365 days a year in public education? Why are we running the same bills we see in very blue states?
These caption bills leave us with nothing but questions about their motive as they erode our trust in Tennessee leadership.