Anti-bully bill faces Ga. House vote on Thursday

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imagePolitical conspiracy theorists take note: On the same day that LGBT activists went to the Gold Dome to lobby their lawmakers, a bill to toughen Georgia’s anti-bullying law cleared a key hurdle in the House.

Now, the statewide gay rights lobby, Georgia Equality, is urging its supporters to make contact with their state representatives and push them to support H.B. 927 in advance of an expected vote by the full House on Thursday.

“The next 24 hours are a critical time for everyone to reach out to their Georgia House Representative and urge them to vote in favor of H.B. 927,” says Jeff Graham (photo), executive directory of Georgia Equality.

“There were some changes to the language that were made on the committee level that have strengthened the bill. It has broad bipartisan support and the support of a large number of organizations and associations. We hope that the full house will recognize this as an opportunity to vote for a bill that everyone agrees will improve safety for all students,” he adds.

On Wednesday, the House Rules Committee approved the legislation, which enjoys support from both political parties. Rep. Mike Jacobs, a gay-friendly Republican, wrote the measure, while Rep. Karla Drenner, a Democrat and one of two openly gay members of the state House, also backs it. The legislation was approved by the House Judiciary Non-civil Committee on Feb. 10.

The legislation is one of two House bills that address bullying, a top priority of Georgia Equality for the General Assembly this year. The other proposal, House Bill 940, is from state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, a Democrat, and is being considered by the House Education committee.

H.B. 927 offers a sweeping definition of bullying and mandates that local school systems develop anti-bullying policies by August 2011. It also directs the state Department of Education to develop a model policy about bullying by January 2011. But the legislation does not include specific protected categories in its definition of bullying. Instead, it describes the act as threats of injury, displays of force used to intimidate a victim, or written, verbal and physical acts “which a reasonable person would perceive as being intended to threaten, harass, or intimidate.”

Bullying gained widespread attention last year after an 11-year-old DeKalb County student, Jaheem Herrera, committed suicide after facing anti-gay taunts from classmates. A report from the school system later said Herrera was not bullied at his elementary school, despite reports from his mother and parents of classmates.

On Wednesday, when the House Rules Committee approved H.B. 927, Graham and other LGBT activists were at the Gold Dome for the first of two days of lobbying lawmakers on gay and lesbian issues. Georgia Equality joined with ACLU of Georgia, GA Safe Schools Coalition and MEGA Family Project. Georgia Equality holds its own lobby day on March 24.

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