Politics

Bell County is expected to soon have a one-of-a-kind option to dealing with truancy.

House Bill 452 will allow the Commissioners Court to appoint so-called “masters” to oversee truancy cases. The Texas Senate unanimously approved the Bell County-focused legislation on Friday.

“This is a very unique piece of legislation,” state Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, said. “No one else in the state — that I’m aware of — has approached truancy from this manner.”

Shine, the bill’s author, said there are still some procedural steps before it heads to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.

“I’m happy to see it go forward,” Bell County Judge David Blackburn said. “It provides us with an option … as we go forward in our process relating to how we’re going to handle truancy cases in the future.”

Whoever the Commissioners Court appoints as a truancy master would be required to have the same training as a justice of the peace and be assigned to a specific school district. The appointee, Shine said, would serve at the pleasure of the Commissioners Court.

“The main issue with truancy is that there is a bottleneck of cases in the March, April, and May months,” said Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Cliff Coleman, who spoke in favor of the bill as it made its way through the House and Senate. “The law as written would allow the Commissioners Court to appoint a part-time judge to sit in a couple days per week in those months to help clear the docket.”

Shine and Coleman said this measure could become a model for other counties.

“It is my thought that this will be a pilot program that other counties around the state that are having the same issues will want to adopt next session,” Coleman said.

Shine foresees other counties wanting to copy this approach to truancy, and pursuing similar legislation when the Legislature meets again in 2021.

“There’s always a need to tweak things a little bit, but I think right now we have a real good model,” the Temple Republican said.

Should HB 452 become law, it would be effective on Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 282

Another Bell County bill is set to make its way to the governor.

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham’s Senate Bill 282 would require the Texas Department of Transportation to provide financial relief to communities impacted by highway project delays, and keep any money from damages on that project inside that district.

The House on Friday unanimously approved the bill — which was sponsored by Buckley and Shine as well as Democrats Michelle Beckley of Carrollton and Rhetta Bowers of Garland.