On March 30, the Senate Education Committee voted to table HB 1373. No further action was taking before sine die on April 1. The bill is now dead.
Explanation of the Bill
House Bill 1373 would enact the “Released-Time Moral Instruction Act of 2023,” allowing students to receive religious or other “moral” instruction during the school day. Under HB 1373, a school board could allow students, with the consent of their parents, to be excused for up to one full school day a week—or possibly more—to receive “moral instruction in accordance with the religious faith or preference of the pupils.” Participating students would be credited for time spent on moral instruction “as if they had been in actual attendance in school” and could not be penalized for any school work missed during this time. Moral instruction could take place at any “suitable place” aside from school grounds.
HB 1373 is vague in many respects. To start, there is a minimum duration of time for moral instruction (one hour) but not a maximum. Lines 36-37 read that a student could “be excused for at least one (1) hour, one (1) day each week.” At the very least, these lines would authorize school districts to allot up to one full school day for moral instruction. However, another interpretation could apply the “at least” to the “one day” as well, meaning a district would be authorized, if they so choose, to allot the entire school year to moral instruction—all while crediting the participating students with attending school.
Likely due to First Amendment constraints, HB 1373 is also vague as to what qualifies as “moral instruction” or where such instruction could take place. Though it is up to the district to establish time for moral instruction, it would be the prerogative of parents to decide what qualifies as “moral instruction” and a “suitable place” for this instruction to take place. Though the law is almost certainly motivated by the wishes of practicing Christians, there would be nothing to preclude parents from sending their child to, for example, the local Satanic Temple during school hours.
Removing up to one full day of credit-bearing instruction a week (or possibly the entire school year, depending on judicial interpretation of lines 36-37) would likely have negative academic consequences for participants in moral instruction—though participation would be optional and at the discretion of parents. The original version of HB 1373 would have forbid non-participants—students who remain at school during the allotted time for moral instruction—from taking credit-bearing courses during the time for their classmates’ moral instruction. However, the House amended this section and removed this controversial provision before passage.
|1/16/23||On January 16, SB 2367 was referred to the Senate Education Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee.|
|1/31/23||On January 31, the Senate Education Committee passed the original version of SB 2367. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a committee substitute, sending it back to the Senate Education Committee. The Senate Education Committee passed the committee substitute.|
|2/14/23||On February 14, HB 1373 was referred to the Senate Education Committee.|
|2/28/23||The Senate Education Committee failed to take action on HB 1373 before the February 28 deadline, causing this bill to die in committee.|
|3/30/23||House Concurrent Resolution 61 suspended the deadline for HB 1373, giving HB 1373 one more shot at becoming law. HB 1373 must still pass out of the Senate Education Committee.|