State Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, sponsored House Bill 407, which proposed strengthening existing anti-bullying legislation for Louisiana schools. It included language meant to protect all children, with a clearer definition of bullying, and would require schools to train faculty to identify bullying in and out of the classroom.
The House Education Committee met this morning, and following the panel's major changes to the bill's language, Smith pulled the bill. “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 said.
Smith's bill was inspired by statewide and national reports of bullying, and bullying-provoked suicides — including the recent deaths of Tesa Middlebrook of Pointe Coupee Parish, and Savannah Robinson of Slidell, among others. Last year, State Rep. Austin Badon's similar anti-bullying bill was rejected in the House, to which he remarked, "It’s a sad day in Louisiana. We have the authority and the power to address this issue. It’s a sad day when we won’t stand up and help the parents. For us to sit here and say that the conservative, religious right is going to dictate to us how we’re going to vote, I’m embarrassed by that."
Its opponents — notably Gov. Bobby Jindal and the conservative evangelical organization the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) — said the bill infringes on free speech rights, and its "categories of protection," namely in protecting students' sexual identities or gender identification, "creates winners and losers." Last month, LFF director Gene Mills told Gambit, "When you introduce a category of protection that doesn't have a clear legal definition, how do you administer that law in equitable fashion?" ... It's better to have no measure than to have one that ties us up in litigation and confuses the school system and kids (and) move forward with the long, potentially confusing litigation."
State Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, echoed that sentiment, saying, "When you leave somebody out you are going to create a loophole."
The LFF drafted its version of an anti-bullying bill, and it seems to have sailed into the House — State Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, introduced his House Bill 1101, which exempts "religious, philosophical or political views" that do not cause "actual, material disruption" from anti-bullying measures. It's dubbed by critics as a "bully the gay away" bill, and it closely mirrors a Tennessee bill that was ridiculed and ultimately failed last year.
Schroder's bill also was sent to the House Education Committee.
A Senate version of Smith's anti-bullying bill, filed by Baton Rouge State Sens. Yvonne Dorsey-Lacombe and Rick Ward, also is in committee.