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Anti-bullying bill ready to overcome political posturing

The issue of school bullying deserves better than to be used as a political prop by one state legislator, but, fortunately, another appears ready to tackle the substance of it.

State Rep. Pat Smith had sponsored HB 407, which would define measures that constituted bullying and marginally increased notification and reporting requirements. Unfortunately, in its original form, the bill carried consequences that could have conflicted with free speech advocacy; for example, the bill’s language could have caused prosecution of a student arguing against the concept of same-sex marriage to another who favored it. Additionally, by assuming to come up with a complete list, it risked creating classes of individuals the bullying of whom under current law would not be covered. Finally, other than specify protected classes of individuals by both characteristics and behaviors, it did little else to beef up notification and reporting.

To deal with free speech issues, an amendment was offered that pared away the list of specified protected classes, which succeeded. Smith then voluntarily deferred it rather than proceed – even though the bill didn’t do much else to address the issue it did more clearly define behavior that constituted bullying and more amendments could have improved it further. Given that action, it’s hard not to conclude that she seemed more interested in trying to make a political statement than actually support a law that would increase the chances of preventing and prosecuting bullying.

Although legislation may be advanced by any chamber member, legislative norms are that bill authors, as long as they remain members of the body, control whether they wish to advance their legislation, so this bill will go no further despite the House Education Committee’s apparent signal that it would look favorably on it as amended. Fortunately, while Smith may be off posturing with no genuine intent to address the issue, other lawmakers have a more serious concern with it.

One is state Sen. Rick Ward with his SB 709. This bill does a lot of what Smith’s asks, even creating a criminal offense separate from lesser instances in schools, and defines the kind of behavior that constitutes bullying (with specifics and notification about that provided by school districts) without resorting to declaring that certain topics of speech are classified as bullying. It also contains a guarantee that the statute would not abrogate free speech rights under the Louisiana Constitution so that thought crimes do not get created by it.

Hopefully, a majority of legislators are more like Ward, interested in a public policy solution that more than adequately addresses the issue helpfully, and less like Smith who by her unwillingness to lead shows she’s more interested in grandstanding, and thereby get such a bill like Ward’s passed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I often disagree with Rep. Smith positions and proposals, I can assure you that she is a leader.

Your comments (conclusions) to the contrary, respectfully, are sorely misplaced.