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Why 5 House Republicans voted against the GOP’s Parents Bill of Rights

The Hill logo The Hill 3/24/2023 Mychael Schnell
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Five House Republicans broke from the GOP and voted against the Parents Bill of Rights on Friday, an education-focused measure the conference brought up to emphasize parental rights in the classroom.

The House approved the measure in a 213-208 vote, with all voting Democrats opposing the legislation. Five Republicans joined them in opposition: Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Mike Lawler (N.Y.) and Matt Rosendale (Mont.).

The legislation would, among other tenets, mandate that schools post their curricula publicly, require that parents are allowed to meet with their children’s teachers, and demand that schools provide parents with information when violence happens on school grounds.

Additionally, it would require that parents receive a list of the books and reading materials accessible at the school library, and it would allow parents to have a say when schools are creating or updating policies and procedures related to student privacy.

House Republicans vowed to bring up the measure during the 2022 midterm campaign if they were to reclaim the majority.

Lawler — a freshman who represents a district President Biden won by 10 points in 2020 — told The Hill in a statement that he voted against the bill despite being a co-sponsor because an amendment added to the legislation “went too far.”

A spokesperson for the congressman said he was referring to the amendment introduced by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) that said parents have a right to know if their child’s school allows a transgender girl or woman to use a bathroom or changing room that does not correspond with the sex assigned at birth. The addition passed the House by voice vote.

“Unfortunately, a late amendment to the bill — that unnecessarily targeted certain children — went too far,” Lawler said. “Our goal as parents, educators, and legislators should be making lives better and safer for our children, and I am concerned that this amendment could do the opposite, putting vulnerable children at greater risk.”

“It is my hope that as the bill continues to move through the legislative process, we can further clarify the language and ensure both the fundamental rights of parents and the safety and welfare of our children,” he added.

The congressman said he “worked in good faith” to address concerns he had with some of the language used in the bill, and was ultimately “able to ensure that children of all background would be protected and feel comfortable in their own schools and homes.” But he then cited the problematic amendment.

The four other Republicans who broke from the party to oppose the measure raised concerns about the federal government involving itself with local school districts.

“The measure has a fatal flaw, however,” Buck said of the legislation in an op-ed for “The Washington Times” published on Thursday, noting that it has “many worthy initiatives for parents to pursue.”

“While seemingly reinforcing parents’ rights, it undermines the critical principle for conservatives: federalism, the bedrock of our liberty,” he wrote. “The Constitution provides a limited list of federal powers. As conservatives have rightly pointed out for decades, education is not on that list. My fellow Republicans in the House, confusing themselves with a national school board, believe the federal government should step in to protect parents.”

He said his GOP colleagues “have succumbed to the latest populist fever,” adding that “House Republicans are willing to jettison the Constitution and federalism for a bill that elevates the federal government in education.”

The Colorado Republican also cautioned that giving the federal government a say in education now opens up the possibility of Democrats in the future using “these new federal powers over education to advance a woke agenda.”

“Contrary to what many of my Republican colleagues would have us believe, federalism is worth protecting, even when we control one chamber of Congress and even when we have ideas that would perform well on Instagram,” he wrote.

“The overwhelming majority of the House Republicans will be on record supporting the idea of expanded federal powers in your child’s education. I have no doubt the Democrats will remind them of this position when they are back in charge and want to pass federal education bills,” he added.

Biggs following the vote said, “the nub of it is there’s no constitutional authority for the federal government to regulate state and local education issues… from the left or right.” He also said he agreed with Buck’s op-ed.

The Arizona Republican continued, stating that his opinion is, “we should not have a federal Department of Education.”

Rosendale wrote on Twitter, “The answer to an out-of-control education system is not turning more control over to the federal government!” Gaetz said, “From Wokeness to funding to bathrooms to Critical Race Theory, the federal government SHOULD NOT be involved in education.”

“I don’t want to strengthen the federal Department of Education. I want to abolish it. I don’t want Congress more involved in decisions that are best made in local school districts. I want the Congress less involved. Therefore, I voted against today’s Republican bill to establish a federal ‘Parents Bill of Rights,’” he added on Twitter.

Emily Brooks contributed.

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