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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.


Debased rhetoric again appears to try derailing reform

As the debate over changes to the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System, one particular red herring has come up in an attempt to stymie this legislation and avoid argument over the merits of an increased contribution of three percent employees would have to make. Unfortunately, it gained credence because of political reasons, and now must be batted away as a distraction from the real issues.

Some opponents to the increase claim that it is a “tax” and point to a ruling made last year by then-Speaker Jim Tucker concerning a bill that asked for the same increase that it was a “fee” or “tax,” in order to rule whether it needed just a majority or two-thirds vote to advance. No doubt a similar choice looms on the horizon for current Speaker Chuck Kleckley, with two other considerations also thus in the balance: this being an even-numbered-year sessions, tax increases are prohibited, and in any year they cannot originate in the Senate, as the current bill is.

It was a politically-motivated decision for the term-limited Tucker then had his eye on higher office, so seeming to cut off any increase might win him favors among state employees who voted (apparently not enough, as he subsequently lost a bid for secretary of state). As it was, the legal reasoning behind his opinion was exceptionally shoddy.


Different Senate outcomes in NW LA provide same lesson

Louisiana's Legislature has reconvened for a new term, with few incumbents of any kind running for office not winning. State Senate contests in northwest Louisiana proved exceptional and instructive in this regard, and deserve review as to why incumbents and psuedo-incumbents do lose -- and this already has made a difference in policy.

After the general election in October, Caddo and Bossier Parishes had the singular distinction of having the only legislative district in the entire state where a current incumbent was defeated by a non-incumbent, when Sen. Barrow Peacock took just more than half as many tries for elective state government office as had state Rep. Barbara Norton to notch a win. On his fourth try, the Republican became the senator-elect for District 37 by defeating former state Rep. Jane Smith in a contest many observers had thought was hers to lose.

Smith of the GOP carried the backing of many state Republicans all the way to the top, having been one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s floor leaders.


Compromise hopefully will not moot LA education reform

Perhaps although necessary for bill success, a potential poison pill provision in the recently-passed incipient law that permits Louisiana’s scholarship voucher program to expand carries the future risk of abrogating the very intent behind the legislation.

HB 976, among other things, might dramatically expand the number of students who receive an amount of state money, one considerably less than the state spends per student in public schools that could pay for schooling at a non-public school. Children from families whose income is 250 percent of the poverty limit or below and who attend a D or F ranked public school are guaranteed placement in one of these schools – if there’s room for them.

Those schools entirely voluntarily will supply the space, which over the next few years may amount only to several thousand slots, perhaps two percent of the total now eligible, where their willingness to do so in large part comes from how heavy of a hand the state will cast in regulating regarding these students. Understand that the reason these private schools exist, most of them having some religious affiliation, is because they wished to teach certain subjects and in certain ways that public schools for various reasons would not or could not do. Too much regulation that makes them unable to operate in the manner they see fit will discourage them from accepting these students.


Paranoid, misinformed column validates reform need

Gov. Bobby Jindal hasn’t yet signed the two bills that serve as the centerpiece of his latest round of education reforms, and already some affected see the sky as falling – with such responses demonstrating why this batch of changes combined with others made previously are so necessary to improve the state’s elementary and secondary education systems.

One current teacher named Madeline Cole gave us a trip through her fears about the changes. She sees the new law’s permission to make it easier to discharge underperforming teachers combined with 2010’s Act 54 that created the value-added assessment regime – where teacher performance is graded half on student academic growth and half on a few hours of administrator observation – as unfairly threatening sinecures. She called the achievement of tenure now hostage to “unrealistic” expectations, bemoans that no longer can automatic pay raises be forthcoming every year, whines that it’s hard to achieve a “perfect score” under the new system, places faith in rumors that teachers subject to corrective actions will be paid less if at all, argues that there’s too much whimsy in evaluation because “evaluation is based on how this year's kids did in comparison to last year's kids,” and chafes that under the new way of doing things no “one cares or notices that every one of my kids improved their personal best, went up in reading level, increased their GPA, and became overall more successful as individuals.”