Vote in the House
The next step is considering and agreeing to the bill a third time and advancing it to final passage, at which time its merits may be debated...with one hundred and two votes being the constitutional majority required for final passage in the House.
"I've seen too many bills die, because of battles that did not need to be fought." This was Rep. Cowell's comment as we neared the culmination of our effort. We knew that amendments would be proposed on the floor that day, and that our bill would reach its final form. Each amendment could be a separate battle. We desperately needed to win the Cowell amendment. However, since every battle is dangerous, we didn't want to fight any other battles if we could avoid them.
First thing Tuesday, November 22, I saw Rep. Itkin in the hall, just off the capitol rotunda. He was a Democratic representative who had supported us and sponsored our bills beginning with our original House Bill 1478. He said, "Good job. You've won. The Democratic caucus went very well yesterday. You've got a strong champion in Ron Cowell."
Then I went into Joe Pitts' office to get our literature which had been left in a box there overnight. Rep. Pitts was there early because there were going to be caucus elections for new officers at the Republican caucus that morning. (He was elected to a leadership position.) He said, "You're doing a great job."
"Any instructions for today?" I asked.
He said, "The Republican caucus went really well." Then he told us about two representatives who might give us problems. One representative had said something about the PSEA opposing the bill. "Get your people to him." Also, Rep. Davies had said something about offering an amendment.
I went back to the literature table and Jim Means was there. We left our sons, Jesse and Jimmy, to man the table and we went to seek out the representative who had said something about the PSEA. But first, I called our support group leader in the district of that representative. She said that her representative was strongly supportive. We got to his office just a little late. The representative who shared his reception area pointed to him standing by the elevator. Jim and I ran down the hall and got into the elevator with him.
"We're with the homeschoolers, and we've got conflicting reports about whether you support the homeschooling bill."
"I'm strongly supportive. Who told you otherwise?"
"One of your constituents told us that you were strongly supportive. The other source was probably wrong."
"There are about 2,000 homeschoolers, aren't there?"
"Then why is the PSEA opposing you? It won't effect them very much, will it?"
The elevator doors opened and we said good-bye, "Thank you very much for your support."
Later that morning, I saw Rep. Davies in the hall. "Rep. Davies, what is this anti-homeschooling amendment that you are proposing?"
"Rep. Davies, are you proposing an amendment to Senate Bill 154 when it comes up for a vote in the House today?"
"Can you tell me what is in it?"
"It tightens up the requirements for evaluators of home education programs." Then he began to explain his amendment to me. At first I had trouble understanding what he was saying.
"Wouldn't this make homeschooling prohibitively expensive if people have to hire a separate teacher for every secondary subject area?" I thought he was requiring that parents hire separate evaluators for every subject area.
"No, I'm just requiring one secondary teacher. I'm only requiring one evaluator. In secondary he would have to have experience in one subject area, and two subject areas in elementary school."
"But, Rep. Davies, I have several years experience teaching reading in elementary school, and I have a Ph.D. in education. I am an expert in home education, but under this restriction, I would not be able to do evaluations just because I have only taught reading. The best teacher that I ever had, Mrs. Nevins, who taught me in three different grades of elementary school, only taught math. The reason I could have her for three different grades was because she only taught math. This requirement would eliminate some of the very best teachers."
"I hadn't thought of that... How do you know she only taught math? Maybe she had taught something else years earlier."
"I don't know that. I only know what she was teaching when I had her. Rep. Davies, I also have an objection to this as a matter of principle. The more you restrict the people who can do homeschool evaluations, the more you take this away from the local level and make it that one person, somewhere in the state, will be doing hundreds of these evaluations."
"This is a matter of principle. I don't want a floater who doesn't know anything about teaching subject matter grading student work."
Rep. Davies then proceeded up to the Legislative Reference Bureau and made changes in his amendment. He took off the requirement that would limit it to two subject areas at the elementary level.
I then rushed over to Rep. Pitts' office and Rep. Cowell's office. I caught Rep. Pitts in the back room and told him what the Davies amendment said. Then I rushed over to Rep. Cowell's office and told Jan Bissett. The legislators were scheduled to begin the voting session in just a few hours. It was past lunch time, so Jim Means and I, and our sons, went to lunch thinking that there would still be time to figure out a response to the Davies amendment after lunch.
Meanwhile, Tom Eldredge found out about the Davies amendment and went to Davies' office. He waited there until Rep. Davies walked in, then he traded a copy of the Cowell amendment for a copy of the Davies amendment.
Then Tom went to Rep. Pitts' office to talk things over. I caught the tail end of the conversation.
At first Rep. Pitts said, "We'll just have to argue against it on the floor. Get his constituents to stop him. Tell his constituents to tell him, `You're going to ruin this bill.' If you can't get him to withdraw his amendment, see if you can get him to change it so that we can live with it. We don't want a floor fight on this."
Jim Means and I got back from lunch and went right to Rep. Pitts' office. Tom Eldredge and Rep. Pitts and several others were huddled together. It looked like a counsel of war gathered about Rep. Pitts. They were discussing the Davies amendment. I heard somebody say, "Chemistry, physics, foreign languages." I thought they were preparing arguments against Davies' amendment because he hadn't included those subject areas, but no. Rep. Pitts was saying, "If you can get this into acceptable form, accept it as a friendly amendment. Are there any other areas here that he hasn't included?"
We found a number of Davies' constituents gathered by the literature table. As we were walking to Rep. Davies office, Tom explained it to me. On the floor when this amendment comes up, we want to avoid a fight. When the Cowell amendment comes up, we want to win that battle. If there is too much debate on the Davies' matter, the legislators may say, "This bill hasn't been thought out. Let's table it until next session."
We found Rep. Davies in his office and he invited us right in. Mostly Tom and I and Jim talked. Davies listened. I argued the principle that fewer requirements makes local evaluations more likely because there would be more people available to do the evaluations. Tom pointed out that he hadn't included chemistry and physics, foreign languages, and so on. I argued that we had compromised and compromised, again and again; each time we had consented to the compromise. We would try to sell this bill to the homeschoolers once it had been enacted. Why couldn't he accept the compromise?
We all made our pitches, but Davies was unmoved, though he agreed to include the other subject areas that Tom had mentioned.
Tom expressed the worry that the Davies amendment wouldn't fit into the bill once the Cowell amendment had been added. He asked Rep. Davies if we could see the latest copy. (Rep. Davies had just been up to the Legislative Reference Bureau to revise it.) Rep. Davies said the only copy was in the Legislative Reference Bureau. We asked if we could go upstairs with him and see it. He agreed, so Tom and I proceeded down the hall and up the elevator with Rep. Davies to the Legislative Reference Bureau.
There we stood in a narrow walkway dodging traffic while we read the amendment as he had just written it. I asked him to add my subject area "Reading" as a secondary subject, and he did. We read the amendment over, and saw how it would fit in with the bill. Finally, we were satisfied.
Tom and I then proceeded to Rep. Pitts' office and told him that we could live with the amendment as written. Then we went to Rep. Cowell's office and Jan Bissett walked with us to the caucus where the Democrats were electing new officers. As we waited outside the door, she went in and showed Rep. Cowell the amendment and asked him if he could accept it, saying that we were willing to accept it. He said that he would, and Jan came back to us with that message. Then we went to Rep. Pitts and he suggested that we get back to Rep. Davies with the message that we would accept his amendment if he would support the Cowell amendment and the bill as a whole. Davies was not in his office, so we left the message with his secretary. Later that day, Tom found Rep. Davies and secured his cooperation.
The House kept delaying and delaying the start of the voting session. The schedule had been printed for the day and Senate Bill 154 was on it. Rumor had it that there would be two amendments besides the Cowell and Davies amendments. One of the amendments would be introduced by Rep. Coy. Apparently Sen. Hess, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, had requested that it be added. It didn't have anything to do with homeschooling. Neither did the other amendment which would be proposed by Rep. Ruth Harper, the same representative who, as Chair of the Basic Education Subcommittee, had never scheduled a hearing on our first homeschooling bill.
At 3:30 when the session finally began, the gallery was still packed with homeschoolers. Then the representatives got into a long debate over several amendments to the CAT fund, a controversial public insurance fund that insured motorists against catastrophic medical costs. Gary Hornberger, lobbyist for Pennsylvanians for Biblical Morality, was in the gallery there and he congratulated us for our continuous presence in the capitol over the last two weeks. "Other groups come for one day and then disappear," he said. We talked about other grass roots movements that had mounted effective campaigns. He mentioned the Christian Schools a few years before and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
It got later and later. Four o'clock, five o'clock. The ranks of homeschoolers in the gallery gradually thinned out as children got hungry and people had to leave for other commitments. Dave and Diane Moss's four children aged 1, 3, 5, & 6, were tired and hungry. Dave was all for going home, but Diane persuaded him to take the kids out for supper and then return. She was not ready to give up. That morning she had read Psalm 88 which ended with the discouraging words, "The darkness is my closest friend." But then she had continued with the upbeat words of Psalm 89, "I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations."
Things certainly looked dark to us from the gallery. We knew that the House would not come back on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and that it might be too late if they waited until the last two days of the session. Our only chance would be if they came to an end of the CAT fund debate. Every time there would be amendments, they would be voted on almost entirely along party lines. The Democrats were winning all of the votes. About a half dozen Democrats would break with their party and about a half dozen Republicans would do the same. When a Republican gave a rousing speech all of his side of the aisle would clap. When a Democrat gave a rousing speech, his side of the aisle would clap. One time, a Republican gave a rousing speech for the Democrats' position and all of the Democrats cheered. Five thirty, six o'clock. Would they ever get to our vote?
Tom Eldredge was sitting on the floor of the House Chamber with a few other homeschoolers on some chairs set aside for people with passes from the Speaker of the House. Sometimes Greg White or Rep. Pitts would walk over to talk to him. Greg White was also on the floor talking to Rep. Pitts and the Democratic leaders. Rep. Pitts was moving around talking to people. Underneath the issues that were then being debated, there was an undercurrent of activity on our bill. While the other legislators were talking about the CAT fund, Joe Pitts and Greg White were seeking an agreement from the leadership that our bill would be brought up. Meanwhile, up in the gallery we were praying that they would bring it up.
At 6:15 the Speaker announced that they would soon break so that the Republicans and Democrats could discuss matters separately in their caucus rooms. We, in the gallery, got ready to zip down as soon as they broke to catch our representatives in the lobby and ask them to bring our bill up right after caucus.
The arguments went on and on. 6:30. None of us in the gallery had eaten supper. Mary Hudzinski joked about sending out for pizza. At last, they took the final vote on the CAT fund. Rep. Pitts was ready to jump up if need be and ask that Senate Bill 154 be considered next. Then the Speaker said that they would cut the session short and not get to all of the bills on the agenda. We held our breaths as he enumerated the bills they would get to, "We have a number of bills yet to be voted on. There will be no caucus. But we will need your assistance in getting through Senate Bill 941, Senate Bill 154..."
We couldn't help but cheer from the gallery. They were going to get to our bill that day after all. Praise God!
All of the members looked up at us, to see who was in the gallery after that long debate. If they could have seen clearly through the bullet-proof glass they would have seen about 50 die- hard homeschoolers, both parents and children, hungry, but determined to see the bill passed.
Rep. Irvis, the Speaker, told us to quiet down and we did. But we knew that the vote we had waited for would soon occur.
After they quickly discussed and voted on Senate Bill 941, the Speaker instructed, "Turn to page six." I whispered "That's us. That's us." Our bill was on page six of the calendar. Then the drama began.
Speaker: Senate Bill 154!
Speaker: You're only delaying yourselves. Senate Bill 154. On that question the Chair recognizes Mr. Coy, who offers the following amendment the clerk will read. After Mr. Coy, Mr. Cowell will be recognized, then Mr. Davies, and then Mrs. Harper. Mr. Coy's amendment please.
[The clerk then read about three words of the amendment and the Speaker cut him off. That's the way they read amendments without taking up their time. The actual texts of the amendments had already been distributed and the members had them in front of them.]
Speaker: Mr. Coy.
Rep. Coy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This is an agreed to amendment containing the contents of Senate Bill 152 which is currently in the Appropriations Committee of the House. It passed the Senate, dealing with a land conveyance method between volunteer fire department companies and school districts, clarifying some language, and I think would be a good idea to help these small volunteer fire and ambulance companies in Pennsylvania. The support of the House is requested.
Speaker: On the Coy amendment. Those in fa... On the Coy amendment, Mr. Cowell.
[Rep. Cowell stands at a microphone on the Democratic side of the room.]
Rep. Cowell: Mr. Speaker, thank you. As Mr. Coy has suggested, this language is exactly the same as the language of Senate Bill 152 which was previously approved unanimously by the House Education Committee. Many members are familiar with this language. I urge that it be approved.
Speaker: On the Coy amendment, Mr. Pitts.
[Rep. Pitts stands at a microphone on the Republican side of the room.]
Rep. Pitts: Thank you, I also rise to support the Coy amendment. This is an agreed to amendment.
Speaker: On the Coy amendment. Those in favor vote "aye." Those opposed vote "no."
Then the display on the wall began to light up. There were two displays, one for each party. During the CAT fund vote, the Democratic display might largely be green lights indicating yes votes while the Republican display might largely be red lights, but on this vote, there were all green lights except for one.
Speaker: Have all of the members voted. The clerk will record the vote, the yeas are 193 the nays 1. . . . Mr. Cowell offers the following amendment the Clerk will read. . . . Mr. Cowell.
Rep. Cowell: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, briefly, the amendment does three or four things, two of which are very significant. First of all, it changes the definition for appropriate education. Secondly, it adds the definition for hearing examiner, because we would require hearing examiners to conduct hearings when homeschool supervisors seek to appeal the decision of a superintendent. Third, it would restore language to the bill which was removed in the Appropriations Committee, and so far as I know there has been no quarrel about the language which was removed. It's language that provides for minimum curricular requirements for high school home education programs. The language is very similar to the language currently in the school code for non-public schools. The two more significant changes -- first of all would deal, one with testing. The language which was added to the bill in the Appropriations Committee would require achievement tests to be administered each year for homeschooled students. The language that I'm offering in this amendment would, instead, make the language in the homeschool provision of the code consistent with the language that we already have in the school code where we require testing, the TELS test, to be administered in three, five and eight. And secondly, in terms of a significant change, it would change the appeal process so that, instead of the appeal being heard by a committee of a school board as we have in the language that appears before us, my language instead would have the appeal hearing heard by an impartial hearing examiner that would be provided for by the school board. In my judgment, the school board itself could not really provide an impartial hearing for a decision made by the superintendent. We think that it is important that a hearing be provided for. I suggest that it be provided for through an impartial hearing examiner. That's the essence of the change as provided in the amendment before us.
Speaker: On the amendment, Mr. Pitts.
Rep. Pitts: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise to support this amendment. This is the compromise amendment that is the result of many hours of negotiations and talks between the House Education Committee, their staff, our staff, the homeschoolers, and the educators, the Department of Education, the teachers, various groups, superintendents, school boards who have sat in on various meetings at various times. This is the result of a number of accommodations that the homeschoolers have made to accommodate some of the concerns raised by the educators and I would urge the members to support this compromise amendment. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: On the amendment, those in favor vote "aye," those opposed, "no." The clerk will record the vote. The yeas are 193, the nays 0. . . . The Chair now turns to Mr. Davies who offers the following amendment the clerk will read. . . On the amendment Mr. Davies.
Rep. Davies: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this would require a teacher or administrator who evaluates a portfolio at the various levels to have experience in grading in actual subject matter. The academic subject matter is spelled out in the amendment itself. And of course, the grading is defined in the latter definition.
Speaker: On the amendment, Mr. Cowell.
Rep. Cowell: Will the gentleman consent to interrogation, please?
Rep. Davies: Yes, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Mr. Davies agrees that he will consent for interrogation. You may proceed.
Rep. Cowell: Mr. Davies, I ask you to clarify your intent with respect to language in section two, actually sections one and two of the amendment where the language reads, English or language or social studies or mathematics. Is it your intent, for instance, that someone having experience grading English must have experience in all of the items that follow including language, literature, speech, reading and composition? Mr. Davies, is it your intent that they must have experience in any of those rather than all of those items?
Rep. Davies: The intent is, Mr. Speaker, that it be in any one of those. In other words a teacher of English literature would qualify, a teacher of speech would qualify, an instructor in reading would qualify, an instructor solely in English composition would qualify, and the others likewise, a teacher of biology, a teacher of chemistry or even a teacher of simply economics would qualify.
Rep. Cowell: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I would urge that we approve the amendment.
Speaker: Mr. Pitts.
Rep. Pitts: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. With that clarification on legislative intent, and I assume that applies to the science courses as well that follow, biology, chemistry, etc. I would urge the adoption of the amendment. The homeschoolers are in favor of this.
Speaker: Those in favor of the Davies amendment will vote aye, those opposed no. Have all of the members voted? The yeas are 192, the nays 1. . . . Now the Chair turns to the lady, Mrs. Harper, who offers the following amendment, the clerk will read. . . . Mrs. Harper. [Rep. Harper was proposing a rider for our bill which would require that Philadelphia public school children wear school uniforms.]
Rep. Harper: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker I offer this amendment for the parents and the students in Philadelphia, and let me just say this, we have one school in Philadelphia that has adopted uniforms, and it has proven to help the children and their behavior and improve their classes. And, also, we have an experimental program in Washington, D.C. [pause because the other members are making too much noise]
Speaker: [Bangs gavel twice] The lady does not have to proceed against the voices of all of you. [Bangs gavel]. Quiet down.
Rep. Harper: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And I cannot understand especially the parents of children of parochial schools that wear uniforms being against uniforms in the public schools. And I would like to see the children in the public schools have the same opportunity to learn as the children in the parochial schools and the private schools. Uniforms are very, very important to the students and their parents. They are less expensive. They eliminate the competitiveness of the students. For so many reasons we should have uniforms in the public schools. The time has come for uniforms in public schools all over this country. The national magazines have written stories about Washington and Baltimore and the effectiveness of uniforms. And I ask you for an affirmative vote for uniforms for the poor children of Philadelphia.
Speaker: On the Harper amendment, Mr. Cowell.
Rep. Cowell: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I would like to respectfully request that this amendment be defeated. The other three amendments which we have just approved have been approved with no more than one dissenting vote. This amendment would add a new issue and a very controversial issue to this piece of legislation. It is an issue that raises many questions which we are not prepared to address today: Who would pay for the uniforms? What should the maximum cost be? The whole question of the propriety of imposing this requirement on only one district in the Commonwealth where we would not impose it on most of ourselves. Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would note that there are five members of the Philadelphia delegation who are members of the House Education Committee, including the Chairman of the Basic Education Subcommittee. Those members have had and will continue to have every opportunity to raise this issue when they see fit, and in a manner that they see fit as members of that committee. I would encourage Rep. Harper, if she would like this issue to be pursued, to take it up with those members of the committee who do represent the Philadelphia school district. I would suggest that that would be the most appropriate way to handle this issue rather than adding it to the bill this late in the process and this late in the legislative session. Therefore, I urge that we defeat this amendment.
Rep. Harper: Mr. Speaker, may I interrogate Mr. Cowell.
Speaker: [Hits gavel twice]. You're only delaying yourselves with this background noise. We're going to try to get you out of here at a reasonable time, but you're holding us up. [Pause]. You may now proceed.
Rep. Harper: Rep. Cowell, do your children wear uniforms to school? [She apparently knew that Rep. Cowell's children attended a parochial school.]
Rep. Cowell: No, they do not.
Rep. Harper: Pardon?
Rep. Cowell: They do not.
Rep. Harper: They do not. Thank you. I would like to know that because I know that a lot of the members of the House of Representatives' children wear uniforms.
Speaker: On the Harper amendment, Mr. Pitts.
Mr. Pitts: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise to respectfully request the members to oppose this amendment. We have been working on this homeschool legislation for about five years. This is the first time we've had an opportunity to address it. If we add an extraneous amendment such as this, and I don't mean to talk on the merits of mandating school uniforms in the city of Philadelphia for their students, but if we add this issue which has not been a part of the process, I feel certain that we're going to kill this legislation. I ask that the members oppose this amendment. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: On the amendment. Mrs. Harper, you've spoken for two times, you're not permitted again. Those in favor of the amendment will vote "aye," those opposed will vote "no." The members will proceed to vote. Have all of the members voted? Have all the members voted? The clerk will record the vote. The yeas are 28; the nays are 152. . . . Shall the bill pass finally? . . . We're on final passage of Senate Bill 154. Have all of the members voted? The yeas are 194, the nays 0.
Gallery: [Standing Ovation!]
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