A bill introduced by a metro Atlanta state lawmaker would better protect LGBTQ students form bullying and expand what's prohibited to include other forms of intimidation.
Rep. Keisha Waites, an Atlanta Democrat and one of four LGBTQ lawmakers in the Georgia House, introduced House Bill 16 on Wednesday. The measure would expand current state law, which focuses on bullying causing physical harm, to include more forms of intimidation.
“We found that the language was way too vague, and so we wanted to get a definition, we wanted to talk about the fact that this is a pattern of behavior. And that the child believes that they’re in reasonable harm's way,” Waites said.
House Bill 16 defines bullying as conduct by students or employees that:
“Adversely affects the ability of one or more students to participate in or benefit from the school's educational programs or activities or the ability of school employees to provide educational programs or activities by placing a student or students or a school employee or employees in reasonable fear of physical harm.”
Waites also added language to extend protections to students who might be targeted based on their identity, including gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as religion, race, disability and other “distinguishing characteristics.”
The measure is co-sponsored by Reps. Dexter Sharper, Thomas Erica, Sandra Scott and Sheila Jones.
Currently, 19 states have laws specifically prohibiting bullying of LGBTQ students. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, reported that 85 percent of LGBTQ students experience verbal harassment and nearly one in three LGBTQ students will miss a day of school because they feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
GLSEN also provided model state legislation, which Waites said helped shape her bill.
“We used GLSEN’s definition of what they refer to as bullying. So GLSEN provided the comprehensive language for the legislation, which is the model for the country,” she said.
The legislation also requires schools to improve reporting related to bullying, ensure teachers and staff receive bullying prevention training, and designate a person at the school as the primary contact for reporting and tracking bullying incidents.
In 2015, Waites co-sponsored the End to Cyberbullying Act, which targeted online bullying aimed at students or actions conducted using school electronics. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal.
Waites has also introduced legislation focused on improving driver safety and increasing access to driver education classes for students. She said that fines from super speeder laws in Georgia were supposed to go to trauma centers and driver education, but currently they only go to trauma centers.
Waites said that for communities, “that wish to provide driver’s ed funding, there is no funding. For that reason you’re seeing driver’s ed leave our high schools.”
“It is my belief that this is a life-saving measure. It is my belief that this is common sense legislation,” she added.
Waites said the fatality rate for young people reflects, in part, the lack of access to driver education courses.
She is also cosponsoring a Democrat-backed measure related to gun safety and co-sponsoring a bipartisan measure to discourage distracted driving that's modeled after legislation she filed before the start of session in January.
House Bill 16 is among a handful of proposals that include protections for LGBT people. House Bill 230 from Rep. Rhonda Burnough prohibits discrimination against LGBT students and staff in private schools that benefit from a publicly subsidized student scholarship program. Senate Bill 119 from Sen. Lester Jackson protects LGBT people against discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment.