Anti-bullying bill tabled in state House Thursday

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imageAfter only about 45 minutes of debate Thursday, the state House tabled a bill to prohibit bullying in Georgia schools. Georgia Equality and its lobby partners expected a vote and for the bill to pass.

Right after hearing the news, Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham says that he needs “a chance to regroup and see what’s next” before he comments further.

The statewide gay rights lobby urged its supporters to contact their state representatives in the 24 hours preceding the discussion, asking constituents to push lawmakers to support H.B. 927 in advance of the expected vote.

The bill cleared a key hurdle Wednesday when it passed out of the Rules Committee, and Graham said at the time that the measure’s “broad bipartisan support and the support of a large number of organizations and associations” would make it a likely contender for passage. The legislation was previously approved by the House Judiciary Non-civil Committee on Feb. 10.

But apparently, it was bogged down in debate Thursday. After some 40 minutes of comments from House lawmakers, a motion to send the bill back to committee failed with just over half the votes. Three minutes later, no one raised an objection when Rep. Mike Jacobs, a gay-friendly Republican who wrote the measure, moved to table the bill, according to the newly launched GA Voice.

That ended consideration of the measure for the day. It was too soon to tell Thursday when the legislative body would again address the bill.

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.

Jacobs included mention of Herrerra’s story during his pitch to the full House floor on Thursday, GaVo reports.

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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