State House ignores critical vote on bully bill

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imageToo busy passing a water-downed jobs bill, pursuing renegade texters and mourning the death of an anti-gay hate monger, the state House had this to say to supporters of anti-bullying legislation: Pound sand.

That edict came Friday as the state House failed to vote on House Bill 927, a proposal with bipartisan support that would strengthen the state’s anti-bullying statute. Friday was Crossover Day for the General Assembly, which usually means that if a piece of legislation hasn’t passed one chamber by then that it dies for the session. And the 30th day of the legislative session came and went without action on the anti-bullying bill despite optimism from supporters who had strong hopes that it would pass the House and move to the Senate.

The lack of action comes as a second suicide of a Georgia student is linked to alleged harassment and taunting he received from classmates. H.B. 927, sponsored by gay-friendly Republican Rep. Mike Jacobs, was motivated in part by the 2009 suicide of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera, who faced harassment and anti-gay taunts at his DeKalb County school.

On Monday, Jacobs declined to comment on the fate of his anti-bullying legislation, but did continue to advocate for improving current Georgia law on the topic.

“The current Georgia statute with respect to bullying is inadequate,” Jacobs says. “Georgia is one of 41 states that have adopted anti-bullying statutes and Georgia’s statute is the oldest of the 41. So there has been a lot of lawmaking in this area that has happened after Georgia adopted its statute and ours does not reflect what is prevalent in other states at this point.”

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.”

The measure cleared a key hurdle when it passed out of the Rules Committee on March 10, encouraging supporters who expected it would then face a House vote. But the House tabled the measure on March 11 after about 45 minutes of debate.

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