"We are proud and grateful for all the support we have been receiving for Sam's Law. I have been working for a long time on this, going on three years, and to see this become a reality would be a dream come true," said Claudia Crunelle, the Dumas woman who, as reported in the Feb. 9-10 edition of the News-Press, has spent much of the new year in Austin trying to convince Texas legislators to pass HB684, or "Sam's Law," a measure that would mandate that all teachers and school personnel in the state receive training and education on epilepsy, seizures, and what to do for someone experiencing a seizure. "Things are moving forward, and we should know in 90 days if this bill will become law."
In the weeks since Rep. Travis Clardy, Republican from Nacogdoches, introduced the bill on Jan. 8, 2019, the first day of the new, 86th Legislature, Rep. Mays Middleton signed on as joint author, and the bill picked up five co-authors: Reps. Jay Dean, Alex Dominguez, Stan Lambert, Rick Miller, and John Zerwas. It was Miller's aide, Pedro Solis, who came to the aid of a pregnant woman -- who had never had a seizure before -- having a seizure in the capital cafeteria back in Feb., when Crunelle and Shari Dudo, founder of the seizure advocacy group Purple Warriors of Texas, were on their first lobbying trip to Austin. Miller was one of the more than 100 legislative offices Crunelle and Dudo visited on that trip. They just happened to have spoken to Solis and other staffers in Miller's office earlier in the day and told them the correct way to assist a person having a seizure. The experience made believers of both Solis and Miller, and Miller signed on to be a co-author.
Crunelle says HB684 has now been referred to the Public Education Committee with hearings scheduled for Mar. 12.
While the house bill was starting to move through the legislative process, Crunelle and Dudo met with Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Republican from Mineola, on Feb. 7. On Feb. 22, he introduced a companion version of Sam's Law, SB1044, in the Senate, something that Crunelle and Dudo had identified as a top priority, if they were going to see the bill enacted into law.
Crunelle, who has epilepsy herself and has been a 14-year volunteer with the Epilepsy Foundation, says she plans to return to Austin before the hearing on the 12th to continue her lobbying efforts. This is her first time to lobby for a bill in the legislature and, in fact, she had never even been to Austin prior to taking up this cause. She cites her experience having seizures in school as the source of her passion for educating people about seizures. "Teachers did not know how to help me; they would sometimes try to put things in my mouth, because they thought I would 'swallow my tongue.' It is impossible to swallow your tongue." she said. "For years after I graduated, I would see people I went to school with and they would say, 'Oh, you are that girl that shakes.' "
Crunelle understands that, despite her hopes, the bill still has a number of obstacles to overcome; getting the bill passed in both houses and signed by the governor by the end of the legislature on May 27 will be difficult. "There are a lot of bills," she said. But Crunelle says both Rep. Four Price and State Sen. Kel Seliger have indicated that they think Sam's Law is "a good bill," and she remains both hopeful and determined.
Sam's Law was named after Kilgore High School student Samantha Watkins. Despite never having had a seizure before or even a history of epilepsy, Watkins had a seizure and died in 2016. Sudden death from epilepsy happens in one in every 1000 cases. The idea of the law became a cause in East Texas where Watkin's case was well-known. The law would require all school personnel to annually watch a less-than 30 minute video provided free-of-charge by the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas that instructs viewers on how to recognize seizures and perform first aid on those having them. It also requires school nurses to watch a somewhat longer video, and it has parents and a neurologist fill out a so-called 'seizure action plan' that would detail aspects of the child's condition and be kept on file at the child's school to assist in his or her care. Crunelle stresses that people do not have to have epilepsy to have a seizure. Head trauma, pregnancy, and dehydration, among other things, can cause someone to have a seizure.