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House Backs Giddings Measure Targeting 'Lunch Shaming'

Bob Daemmrich for the Texas Tribune
State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Desoto, holds up a sample of a piece of cheese given to students who lack money to pay for school lunches in Dallas area schools during a personal privilege speech on the House floor May 9, 2017.

After several failed attempts and compromises during the legislative session — and a heated debate with members of the House Freedom Caucus on Wednesday — Rep. Helen Giddings succeeded in getting the House to pass a measure that targets "lunch shaming" in schools.

The proposal, which was tacked on as an amendment to Senate Bill 1566, would require local school boards to develop a grace period policy that ensures students without enough money in their school lunch accounts have some time to resolve the issue.

The original bill by Giddings, D-DeSoto, included provisions for a grace period, but also explicitly mentioned it may not publicly identify a student with a negative balance on their meal card. Her legislation, which was killed by the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus earlier this month, stated the district should privately notify the student's parents or guardians and provide those meals through the same serving line as regular meals. That language was missing from the amendment proposed today.

Giddings said Texas students have been turned away from getting a hot meal when they don't have sufficient funds.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, protested against the amendment, calling it a mandate and decrying the negative response he said he and other Freedom Caucus members have received because of their opposition to Giddings' measure.

Tempers flared as Giddings, at the front mic, took questions from Stickland, at the back. At one point Giddings told Stickland, "Sir, you don’t need to raise your voice with me, please, because I’m not afraid."

And later, as Stickland spoke, she wondered aloud, "Mr. Speaker, is the back mic for questions or is the back mic for speeches?"

Speaking against the amendment before the vote, Stickland said he and his fellow Freedom Caucus members "have been dragged around like a rag doll because of this."

"The things that have been said in regards to this bill have blown my mind," he added

On Tuesday, Giddings announced a private initiative aimed at cracking down on "lunch shaming." She enlisted the help of Feeding Texas, a statewide association of food banks that serves more than 3.5 million Texans, to launch a donation page to raise money for the issue. On Wednesday, she said the group had already received more than $10,000.

SB 1566, which the House gave final approval on Wednesday, sending it back to the Senate, would require more school board oversight over student achievement and school district operations.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.