The Georgia General Assembly wrapped up their recent gabfest on Thursday and surprisingly – it’s an election year, after all – didn’t use LGBT issues to score points with conservative voters looking to bash people who don’t look or act just like them. Things like balancing the state budget and avoiding transportation chaos took priority. Color us surprised.
Lawmakers, though, on Thursday did approve Senate Bill 250 and in the process, toughened the state’s anti-bullying laws. The measure originally dealt with school bus safety but was amended to carry provisions revamping the state’s anti-bullying measures after that piece of legislation from gay-friendly state Rep. Mike Jacobs failed to gain traction on its own.
So, in the closing hours of the legislative session the bill was passed, a vote that was never certain since the House skipped what backers of the bill thought was a sure victory a few weeks ago.
With a legislature and governor’s mansion controlled by conservative Republicans, LGBT backers of the anti-bullying provisions are dubbing S.B. 250’s passage a victory. The legislation does not include specific protected categories in its definition of bullying. But it does offer 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.
Georgia Equality called the passage of the anti-bullying bill a top priority for the legislative session. Supporters of the statewide group sent more than 300 emails to lawmakers, made dozens of calls and lobbied in person, efforts that helped build momentum for its eventual passage, says Jeff Graham (photo), Georgia Equality’s executive director.
“We certainly couldn’t be more pleased to see this legislation pass,” Graham says. “Some version of this legislation has been introduced going back at least eight years. It did have strong bipartisan support. It really is a testament to Mike Jacobs’ tenacity to continue to work with that legislation and see it passed.”
In an eblast to it supporters on Friday, Georgia Equality highlighted provisions of the anti-bullying legislation:
• Sets a January 2011 deadline for the state Department of Education to develop an anti-bullying policy that can be a model for local school systems
• Requires age-appropriate consequences for bullying from kindergarten through 12th grade – current policies only deal with bullying in sixth through 12th grades
• Requires school staff to report suspected incidents, and instructs school boards to punish and work to prevent bullying
• Provides that a student can be reassigned to another school for the purpose of separating the student from his or her bullying victim
• Provides for immediate notification of law enforcement when a student commits an alleged physical assault or battery on another student, teacher or other school employee
• Defines bullying 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
S.B. 250 now goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his consideration. Bert Brantley, the governor’s spokesperson, could not be reached for comment on Friday. But Graham says the bill enjoys wide-ranging support that includes professional associations for social workers and educators, the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League, and hopes that helps convince Perdue to sign the measure into law.
“This is legislation that strengthens state law with regards to bullying. It is not an LGBT-specific piece of legislation. It is backed by so many organizations. We fully anticipate that the governor will sign this into law,” Graham says.
The legislative session didn’t see LGBT issues, such as same-sex adoption, under attack from lawmakers. Combine that with the work of HIV advocates to kill a proposed $1.2 million cut to the state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program and Graham hesitantly grades the 2010 legislative session with a C.
“I look at it more as acceptable or unacceptable and it is acceptable, but that almost diminishes it. What is really important is that we were able to advance legislation that does protect and support LGBT Georgians, along with other Georgians, and we have been able to protect some of the most crucial funding in terms of ADAP. And we did not see any serious efforts at anti-gay legislation,” Graham says.