AUSTIN -- In a debate that prompted some lawmakers to recount their own adolescent bouts with the paddle, House members on Thursday revived and passed a corporal punishment bill they defeated a day earlier.
Sponsors were forced to accept changes that substantially weakened the bill, but they nevertheless proclaimed a victory toward curbing the use of paddling in public schools.
House Bill 359 would permit parents or guardians to forbid school districts from using the punishment on their children. The bill was amended to exclude counties with populations of less than 50,000.
"It's still an acceptable bill to me, and I'm very thankful we were able to work through the system," said Rep. Barbara Nash, a former Arlington school board member who was a leading co-sponsor. "I feel very relieved and I'm very thankful we were able to work the system."
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The Arlington Republican worked with her deskmate in the House, Democratic Rep. Alma Allen of Houston, in crafting the bill. The Republican-dominated House voted 73-69 to kill the bill Wednesday, but supporters built support overnight and won preliminary passage with a vote of 87-56.
A final vote in the House would send the bill to the Senate in the remaining weeks before the Legislature's May 30 adjournment.
A two-part series in the Star-Telegram this year examined corporal punishment in Texas, one of 20 states that allow school officials to paddle students. Most larger school districts have abolished the practice.
Supporters of the bill liken corporal punishment to legalized child abuse. Opponents say the proposed law intrudes on local control and undercuts school district decisions on how to discipline children.
The Texas Conservative Coalition, which includes more than 70 of the 101 House Republicans, opposed the bill.
"When you talk to teachers, the No. 1 problem they talk about is the ability to maintain discipline," said Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington.
"Every one of us 30 years ago ... we probably got swats," said the Tarrant County lawmaker, recalling his experiences with corporal punishment as a student. "By the end of the second swat, I had already decided I wasn't going to cut class anymore."
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, confessed that he was a "very unruly kid" in high school. He told colleagues that "the times I got licks" from coaches and assistant principals "made a big impact in my life."
King said the bill goes "way beyond what limited government and local control is all about."
But Nash urged lawmakers to support the bill as a "vote for parental rights in Texas schools."
Allen and Nash say research has shown that corporal punishment can have lasting consequences and has been linked to anxiety, depression and drug abuse.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294