Legislators introduced triple the number of constitutional amendments related to parental rights in 2023 compared to prior years

Since 2013, at least 38 state constitutional amendments related to parental rights have been introduced in state legislatures. From 2013 to 2021, there were between one and three amendments introduced each year. In 2022, there were four constitutional amendments introduced. In 2023, that number more than tripled, with 13 state constitutional amendments proposed in nine states—Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia.

As of June 22, none of these constitutional amendments have made the ballot. Except in Delaware, state constitutional amendments require voter ratification after receiving legislative approval.

This year, all 13 constitutional amendments are sponsored by legislative Republicans. From 2013 to 2022, all the amendments were sponsored by legislative Republicans, except for one proposal in Delaware, where one Democrat joined with 20 Republicans to co-sponsor an amendment.

While none of this year’s proposals have made the ballot so far, more have progressed through the legislative process than in prior years. Of the 25 proposed between 2013 and 2022, one amendment passed a floor vote, which was in the Missouri House in 2014. In 2023, three have passed one legislative chamber—two in Texas and one in Arizona.

Amendments in Texas 

In Texas, SJR 29 passed the Senate on April 19, 2023. The constitutional amendment was approved 21-10, with 19 Republicans and two Democrats voting in favor. The other 10 Democrats voted against the proposal. SJR 29 would have established a right in the Texas Constitution for parents or legal guardians to direct their children’s education, including choosing an alternative to public school, accessing public school teaching materials, attending school board meetings, and accessing the child’s student health records.

The Texas Senate also passed SJR 70, which would have established a right in the Texas Constitution for parents or legal guardians “to exercise care, custody, and control of the parent’s child and to make decisions for the upbringing of the parent’s child, including but not limited to decisions regarding the education, moral and religious training, and health care of the child.” SJR 70 received support from Senate Republicans along with nine Senate Democrats. Three Democrats voted against the measure.

Neither of the constitutional amendments received a vote in the Texas House of Representatives before the Legislature adjourned on May 29, 2023.

Amendment in Arizona 

In Arizona, the Senate voted 16-12 to pass SCR 1025, which would establish a Parents’ Bill of Rights in the Arizona Constitution, on March 1, 2023. The constitutional amendment would state that parents have a fundamental right “to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children” and the government cannot interfere with this fundamental right. Senate Republicans supported SCR 1025, while Senate Democrats opposed the proposal. The Arizona State Legislature is expected to adjourn on August 11, 2023.

Colorado Amendment 17 in 1996

Voters in at least one state, Colorado, have decided on a ballot measure to establish parental rights in a state constitution. In 1996, the Coalition for Parental Responsibility collected enough signatures to have a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment certified for the ballot as Amendment 17. The ballot measure was defeated, with 57.65% voting ‘No’. Amendment 17 would have made Colorado the first state to provide a constitutional right for parents to “direct and control the upbringing, education, values, and discipline of their children.” The ballot measure would have amended the Colorado Constitution’s section on inalienable rights. Kristine Woolley, executive director of the Coalition of Parental Responsibility, said, “It seems to me parents ought to be given respect. Government elitists have something to lose if I as a parent have more of a voice.” Fofi Mendez, campaign manager for the opposition organization Protect Our Children, said, “The Parental Rights Amendment is about a small group suing teachers, doctors, nurses, librarians, movie theaters and schools to impose their views on everyone else.”

Citizen Initiatives in 2024

While Legislatures have proposed 13 constitutional amendments related to parental rights in relation to their children this year, citizens can also initiate constitutional amendments, like Colorado Amendment 17, in 18 states. As of June 22, Ballotpedia is not tracking any citizen-initiated constitutional amendments related to parental rights. Signature deadlines are between May and August 2024 in 15 of those states.

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