Parental rights bill stalls in Alabama House

By: - May 3, 2023 7:01 am
Legislators debate on the House floor

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, questions the bill sponsor, Rep. Kenneth Paschal, R-Pelham, on what fundamental rights mean. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama House Tuesday delayed consideration of a bill on parents’ rights amid concerns from Democrats about what the bill aimed to do.

HB 6, sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Paschal, R-Pelham, says that Alabama government “may not burden the fundamental right of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, care, and custody of his or her child.”

The legislation would also give the state government the ability to be involved if it finds a “compelling” interest that it is able to further in “the least restrictive means possible.”

Paschal, who invoked “God and Country” during a debate on Tuesday, said that the legislation is “a common sense, proactive bill that codifies and it deserves a deeply rooted historical tradition and legal standards for current rights in child protection in America.”

But he also said that parents are already owed that right and are protected by U.S. constitutional rights and that parental rights are “pre-political.”

“They are natural rights and cannot be given or taken away by the government,” he said.

Similar “parental rights” legislation has died or stalled in at least eight states, including red states Indiana, Wyoming and South Dakota, according to The 19th. The bills would have allowed parents to review curricula or withdraw students from lesson plans they found objectionable.

Educators and researchers told The 19th that the bills could create a hostile climate for teachers and make it seem as if parents don’t have rights in education already.

House Democrats pushed back on Paschal, some of whom questioned the purpose of the bill.

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“Are we saying we don’t trust the citizens of Alabama?” asked Rep. A.J. Campbell, D-Linden.

Paschal said it’s not about trust, but about passing policy that will protect people and the parent-child relationship.

McCampbell, referring to Paschal’s opening remarks, further said “God does not dwell and confuse you.”

Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said the bill contradicted itself: it tried to protect parents from the government by getting the government involved.

“Now you’re going to get the government to do what you didn’t do,” he said. “What kind of mess is this?”

He also said that many people are confused by the bill.

“You know what confusion comes from?” he asked. “Chaos. You know where that comes from? The enemies, that comes from Lucifer.”

Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, criticized Paschal for voting against a bill banning smoking inside vehicles with a child present last month.

“You talk about protection of our children, and the health of our children, but yet, you don’t believe secondhand smoke is bad for our children,” Hollis said.

Before lawmakers had a chance to cast a vote for the bill, one of the co-sponsors, House Majority Leader Scott Stadhagen, R-Hartselle, said that the bill still needed work.

“We still have a lot of questions that we need to get answered and we’re going to work through those,” he said.

Jeff Walker, the father of a tenth grader who is transgender, said on Tuesday that he would love to be able to make healthcare decisions as a father, the “compelling interest” of the state gives him pause. He said that he’s happy that the bill got stalled, but he said that if every bill in the current legislative session got stalled, he would be “static.”

“Stop wasting time on things that the people of Alabama aren’t interested in,” he said. “Quit playing to special interest groups and let’s get to work making Alabama better for all of its citizens,” he said.


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Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for KFF Health News and the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.