Tensions flared again Wednesday in the Louisiana House Education Committee, including charges that a proposed amendment was a replay of a controversial bill by Education Committee Chairman Ray Garofalo that has sparked a racial divide in the Legislature.
The anger erupted during a hearing on legislation by state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, on how American history and civics are to be taught in public schools. She wanted teachers to include lessons on national sovereignty and American exceptionalism, while requiring textbooks to promote the “benefits of capitalism, private property, constitutional liberties, the value of a constitutional republic and traditional standards of moral values.”
Hodges proposed an amendment that touched on some of the same subjects as those in a bill by Garofalo last month aimed at banning colleges from teaching "divisive concepts," including that Louisiana or the United States is racist or sexist.
The Hodges amendment would ban the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from adopting content standards "that provide a particular sex, race, ethnicity ... is inherently superior or inferior to another."
Rep. Ken Brass, D-Vacherie and a member of the committee, said the amendment was a bid to revive Garofalo's bill, which was shelved and considered dead for the session.
The chairman of the House Education Committee shelved his own bill Tuesday that would ban colleges and public schools from teaching "divisive …
"This is his bill in disguise," Brass said of the amendment, a reference to the Garofalo legislation.
"No sir, it is not," Hodges replied.
She noted that the amendment would also add Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech to the curriculum.
"We want them to understand these core principles," Hodges said to Brass.
State Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, a committee member, said she was so taken aback by the language in the amendment that she had to compose herself.
Phelps told the committee she was "more appalled than offended by the amendment."
She noted that the committee has been a hub of controversy since the Garofalo debate erupted.
Phelps also questioned whether the push dealing with racial issues was being imposed on lawmakers without regard to them or their constituents.
"I'm sitting here just trying to keep my composure, and I apologize Mr. Chairman," she said.
The amendment failed on a tie vote.
The proposal, House Bill 352, later cleared the committee 8-5 and next faces action, and likely controversy, in the full House.
Phelps and Brass are Black lawmakers and Hodges and Garofalo are White legislators.
A brief exchange between Garofalo and his committee on April 26 helped ignite the controversy, which has spilled over to the tax revamp effort and other high-profile issues.
Garofalo said at one point a college classroom could have a discussion on slavery.
"You can talk about everything dealing with slavery. The good. The bad. The ugly," he said.
Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, replied: "There is no good to slavery, though."
Replied Garofalo: "You are right. I didn't mean to imply that and don't believe that."
But a video clip went viral on social media, prompting a slew of criticism from celebrities. Critics said the lawmaker implied there were positive aspects of slavery, and both Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus have said he should be replaced as chairman.
Amid rising tensions that threaten to disrupt the legislative session in its third week, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that controversy …
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, who names committee chairs, has declined comment on whether Garofalo will be forced to give up his chairmanship. Garofalo has not responded to requests for comment but he, so far, remains chair of the committee.
Garofalo has said his bill was aimed in part at preventing college professors from promoting their own political ideologies under the guise of classroom instruction.
After the debate, Education Committee Vice Chair Rep. Mark Wright, the Covington Republican running the hearing in Garofalo's absence, was heard saying into a live mic while talking with another lawmaker: “This is a ridiculous day.”
Voting for HB352: Reps. Ray Garofalo, Beryl Amedee, Rick Edmonds, Chuck Owen, Laurie Schlegel, Vincent St. Blanc, Phillip Tarver and Mark Wright.
Voting against HB352: Reps. Ken Brass, Aimee Freeman, Barbara Freiberg, Patrick Jefferson and Tammy Phelps.