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Proposed bill may require volunteer work to graduate

Feb. 22, 2001

Legislators opt for 28 service hours for grads

By LACY ELWOOD

Reporter

If several members of the Texas Legislature have their way, future undergraduate students at Texas public and private universities may be forced to complete community service to graduate.

The Higher Education Committee Monday sent House Bill 791 to the Legislature. The bill requires that students complete 28 hours of community service during the course of one semester before graduation.

Rep. Jesse Jones (D-Dallas), a Baylor chemistry professor, said the bill will later come to the Texas House of Representatives for a second reading, where it will be subjected to serious debate. Jones said the bill would possibly be amended in the House to include an option for completing the service hours.

'There was concern expressed making this mandatory, although all agreed it was laudable to expect students to perform community service,' Jones said. 'There was a strong leaning toward optional volunteer plans.'

Speaker Pro Tem D.R. 'Tom' Uher (D-Bay City), who cast the single vote against the bill, said the proposed requirement would pose a problem for handicapped students and students without transportation. He said an optional program should be introduced to allow students to replace three hours of credit with the community service requirement.

Jones said he voted for the bill with hopes that the requirements for when the hours had to be completed would change.

'I like the concept,' Jones said. 'But the author did not make a strong argument because the requirement would not allow students to do the work over the summer.'

Kris Reyes, legislative director for Rep. Fred Brown (R-College Station) said Brown voted for the bill because he wants to offer an amendment keeping the requirement from being an 'additional burden' when the bill makes it to the House floor.

'He [Brown] felt like the bill would be another factor that would make students' time in college longer,' Reyes said. 'This amendment makes the program optional. If a student chooses to participate, they could get credit for volunteer work as one of their electives.'

Uher said it would also become an invasion of personal freedom.

'When you talk about volunteering, that means voluntary work, not mandated work,' Uher said. 'It has got to come from within, from the heart. It is a matter of personal liberty whether you want to volunteer or not.'

Cameron Chai, president of the Chi's Women's Service organization, agrees with Uher that service should be voluntary.

'It has to come from the heart or it would be just another activity,' Chai said. 'The detriment of mandatory service is that it would not make the service worthwhile.'

The bill would not apply to students enrolled in universities before Sept. 1, 2001.

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