The 2023 parental rights bills, compared
Republicans in the Legislature are pursuing two bills focused on parental rights in schools this year – and putting significant political effort into passing them. But while both the House and the Senate have their own versions, the two bills have some major differences.
Here’s what you need to know about where the two bills diverge.
House Bill 10
The House version of the parental rights bill, House Bill 10, is different from the Senate’s bill in one key respect: It doesn’t require schools to divulge students’ gender identity preferences to parents.
Instead, the House bill outlines a number of rights for parents, including the right to direct their children’s education, upbringing, and moral or religious training; to access school records; to make health care decisions for their child; to access their child’s medical records; to consent to or refuse video recordings of their child as part of a DCYF investigation; and to be notified if it is suspected that their child has been the victim of a criminal offense.
The bill also requires school boards to pass policies informing parents of their existing rights, such as to opt their child out of immunizations by using an exemption, to opt them out of sex education instruction, and to inspect instructional materials and opt their child out of certain instruction if they would like.
The House bill would make a violation by an educator a class A misdemeanor, which can carry a jail sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $2,000. And it would allow parents claiming violations to sue a school board, school district, physician, clinician, or therapist that they believe has violated the law.
Senate Bill 272
The Senate’s parental rights bill, Senate Bill 272, includes an enumeration of the same basic rights that are listed in the House bill, including a right to see a school’s instructional materials and disciplinary practices.
But it also requires that a public school provide parents information specific to their child. If a parent asked, a school would need to provide the exact clubs, organizations, and extracurricular activities in which their child is participating.
And the school would need to tell a parent if the child is being identified by a gender other than their assigned gender at birth; if a child was being identified by a nickname that would suggest a gender transition; and if school personnel were making any accommodations of a child’s chosen gender identity.
That information would need to be made available only if a parent asked. But if the parent did ask, the Senate’s parental bill of rights would require the school to answer truthfully unless they had “clear and convincing” evidence that divulging that information could put a child in danger at home.
Under the Senate bill, an educator who failed to provide the information could be personally sued. But unlike with the House bill, that educator would not face potential misdemeanor charges in the Senate version.
A turbulent history
The difference in approach between the House and Senate parental rights bills this year mirrors the disagreements between the chambers last year.
Last year, a similar parental rights bill left the House and crossed over to the Senate – without the requirements that schools disclose gender identity requirements. The Senate later added those disclosure requirements to the bill.
But after a backlash from advocates who argued the measure amounted to a forced outing of trans students to their parents, and testimony from the state Attorney General’s Office that the bill could open schools up to violation of the state’s anti-discrimination law, the final bill failed to gain enough support in the House and was killed.
Gov. Chris Sununu vowed to veto the bill shortly before it was voted down, citing the attorney general’s concerns.
This year, the two chambers are pursuing separate bills that adhere to their respective preferred approaches last year. In an interview Wednesday, Sununu said he would again defer to the opinion of the Attorney General’s Office before deciding his support.