Amended “anti-bullying” bill pulled by sponsor

A bill aimed at strengthening anti-bullying rules for public schools was shelved by its sponsor Wednesday after a House panel made major changes in the measure.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and sponsor of the proposal, said that an amendment approved by the House Education Committee would degrade the legislation and that she preferred to drop it instead.

“Rather than you degrade a bill that was meant for the safety of children, which is what you have just done, I am pulling the bill,” Smith told the panel.

The measure is House Bill 407.

It would require local school boards to expand current definitions of school bullying, including acts that a “reasonable person” would perceive as being motivated by race, sexual orientation, various disabilities, political ideas or gender identity.

The plan also required teachers and other school officials to undergo training to identify harassment and bullying.

Backers said the change is needed to address what they called widespread bullying in public schools, which they noted has been linked to teen suicides.

“One is too many,” Smith said of such deaths.

Some parents pleaded with the panel to approve the measure and said bullying, and unresponsive school officials, caused a wide range of problems for their children.

Opponents said the bill would be an unconstitutional infringement on free speech and would run afoul of U. S. Supreme Court and other court rulings.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office opposed the measure.

The committee voted 10-5 for an amendment that removed key parts of the bill, including motives for harassment.

State Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City and sponsor of the change, said any such list would leave out some potential victims.

“And when you leave somebody out you are going to create a loophole,” Thompson said.

House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, repeatedly urged backers of the bill to keep their comments to two minutes because of the large number of people that wanted to testify.

John Morton, a police officer who said his daughter Haley Danielle Cox committed suicide last year at the age of 15 after a long period of harassment by other students, praised parts of the bill that would require training for educators.

“Teachers are just like law enforcement officers,” Morton told the committee. “They are held to a responsibility to protect our children.”

Morton said later that, while he felt rushed to finish his testimony, he appreciated the way numerous people were allowed to air their views.