- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A Denham Springs lawmaker’s bid to require Louisiana public school students to recite the Declaration of Independence daily has gained traction in the state House on its second try.

Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges previously pulled her bill to require students in fourth through sixth grade to recite a passage from the historic document, but brought it again Thursday. She said she received support after the previous, spirited debate sparked a national dialogue on the topic.

The House voted 70-23 to advance the measure for Senate consideration.

Black lawmakers opposed the measure, wanting to also require recitation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. They invoked King’s words as they argued for the amendment from Rep. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, which they said was necessary to tell the full story of U.S. equality.

“Nobody walked out of there after writing the Declaration of Independence and freed any slaves,” said Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport.

Hodges countered that just because the document does not have a specific clause condemning slavery, that it also “does not invalidate the principles that are in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.” The founding fathers who penned the document “did not give us slavery,” which was already in place long before the Declaration was written, she said.

Hodges opposed all changes to her bill, which she said is meant to educate children on one of the nation’s founding documents. She would happily vote for separate bills next year to require other recitations, like an excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation, she said.

The House rejected Price’s proposed change and blocked consideration of any additional amendments after a motion from Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, to end the suggestions.

Rep. Pat Smith, R-Baton Rouge, said she withdrew an amendment to also require children to recite a passage from the 1848 Women’s Rights Conference in Seneca Falls because she received a note from a teacher saying Hodges’ bill would hinder teachers’ abilities to do their jobs.

Smith said Hodges should have pushed for a resolution to encourage the teaching of the Declaration, instead of placing a burdensome mandate on teachers with a new law. Norton agreed, saying lawmakers have “have no business legislating a paragraph here, a paragraph there.”

But Hodges said she wants to ensure that children will have more to talk about than fireworks when asked about the meaning behind July 4.

“It will help them to know they have a God-given right to equality and a better future,” she said.

Only four days remain in the regular legislative session to debate the measure, and it appears unlikely that Hodges’ bill will have enough time to move through the Senate hearing process that is necessary for it to reach the governor’s desk.

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House Bill 1035: www.legis.la.gov

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