"This bill arises from events that took place in our district over in East Texas. It is the result of the grassroots efforts of a lot of people, and it is in honor of Samantha "Sam" Watkins of Kilgore, a member of the National Honor Society and the Kilgore High School soccer team. She died of a massive seizure in December 2016. Her family and friends are using this loss as a motivation to help better equip our school personnel to respond to seizures," said Texas State Sen. Bryan Hughes, the bill's Senate sponsor, standing in the Texas Senate chamber.
After a couple of procedural maneuvers, Hughes requested that House Bill 684, better known as "Sam's Law," be put to a final vote. When the voting ended, Sam's Law had passed the Senate 31 to 0. Because the Senate version contains changes from the version of the bill passed unanimously by the House on May 16, the bill will return to the House for reconciliation, if that final legislative hurdle is cleared, the fate of the bill, which mandates that all public school teachers and personnel receive annual training on how to recognize seizures and perform first aid on someone having one, will be in the hands of the governor. He can sign it into law, veto it, or do nothing and allow it to become law without a signature.
"I can't even find the words to explain how I am feeling. All I can say is that I am filled with gratitude and relief that it is moving forward," said Claudia Crunelle, the Dumas woman and seizure activist who has been working to make Sam's Law a reality since before the beginning of the 86th Legislature. She, her daughter, Gabrielle Crunelle, a Dumas High School teacher, Shari Dudo, founder of the epilepsy advocacy group Purple Warriors of Texas, and others made numerous trips to Austin to lobby for the bill. Crunelle says she and Dudo visited every legislative office in Austin. They, along with Gabrielle, testified before the House Public Education Committee in support of the bill. Later, Gabrielle testified before the Senate Education Committee, and Claudia submitted a written statement.
Both committees unanimously approved the bill with minor changes.
Passage in the Senate could not have come a minute too soon for Crunelle and the other supporters. The 86th Legislature ends on May 27. The bill was first filed in the House on Jan 8, 2019 by Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, one of a number of East Texas politicians inspired by the death of Watkins. Crunelle is hopeful that the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill can be quickly reconciled. "All I can do is pray that Rep. Clardy and Sen. Hughes can agree on the new bill. We have gotten to this point without any opposition, so I am very hopeful." As to the intention of the governor, she says she has spoken to a member of his staff, "and there was no opposition."
Claudia Crunelle, whose memories of having seizures in school years ago are what fuel her passion for the bill, says she is grateful to both the senators who voted and the ordinary people who called legislative offices to express their support. And, she says she is also grateful to Barbara Watkins, whose daughter's unexpected death from a seizure almost three years ago sparked the movement behind the bill. "We could not have done this without Samantha's mom … the love she had for her daughter is what made this possible."
Update: The House refused to accept the changes made by the Senate and requested a conference committee on May 22. The House appointed conferees. The House and Senate versions of the bill must be reconciled before the governor can sign it into law. On May 23, the Senate granted the request for a conference committee and appointed Senate conferees. Both bodies provide five conferees. At least three from each side must approve the conference committee report that is prepared after the two sides agree on a compromise. Both houses must then vote to approve the compromise. If that happens, the lieutenant governor signs it for the Senate, and the speaker of the house signs for the House. Once that is accomplished, the bill goes to the governor. If the conferees cannot reach a compromised, the bill is dead. May 26 is the last day for either the House or Senate to adapt conference committee reports. May 27 is the last day of the regular session of the 86th legislature. The News-Press will continue to follow developments in this story.