Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law Thursday that includes a measure addressing one of the most fractious issues of the 85th legislative session: “lunch shaming” for Texas public school students who run out of money in their lunch accounts.

Over the course of the session, state Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, repeatedly clashed with a group of far-right representatives that called themselves the Freedom Caucus over the effort to feed students who run out of money in their lunch accounts. The enactment of Senate Bill 1566 — which includes an amendment creating a grace period allowing these students to continue eating lunch — ends a saga that featured Giddings publicly chastising House members.

While the measure does not dictate the length of the required grace period, Giddings said it will prevent “children having their lunch snatched away and thrown in the trash and going hungry.”

“I’m delighted that we are were able to get that legislation through,” Giddings told The Texas Tribune on Thursday. “It is a major victory for children of the state of Texas.”

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Members of the Freedom Caucus opposed the measure during the regular session because they argued it was an expensive mandate for and micromanagement of local schools, and Giddings at one point delivered an impassioned speech denouncing her colleagues after they successfully stymied her bill on the House floor.

In addition to fighting “lunch shaming” in the Legislature, Giddings has also led a fundraising effort to support schools that offer meals to students who run out of lunch money. She’s worked with Feeding Texas, a statewide association of food banks that serves more than 3.5 million Texans, to raise $216,900 for the cause since the launch of a donation page last month.

“It is our hope, it is our goal to raise enough money that any school has a deficit we will be able to take care of it with this fund,” she said.

Other than the "lunch shaming" provision, SB 1566 stipulates new regulations for independent school districts and boards of county school trustees. 

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • After several failed attempts and compromises during the legislative session, Rep.¬†Helen Giddings¬†finally succeeded in getting the House to pass a measure that targets "lunch shaming" in schools. [link]

  • Rep. Helen Giddings announced the launch of a donation page that allows the public to contribute money to clear the debt of schools that feed schoolchildren when their lunch accounts are empty. [link]

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