Monday, November 15, 2010

The Anti-Bullying Bill Most Likely to be THE Anti-Bullying Bill

Rep. Mark Strama (D-Travis County) filed HB 224 last Tuesday (the second day of filing for the session). HB 224 is substantially similar to the anti bullying bill he filed last session (HB 1323). (Read Legislative Queery's day by day account of that bill's history HERE.)

The bill is a fairly comprehensive approach to fighting bullying. It requires all school districts to create a training program for staff, volunteers who work with students, students and parents designed to teach them to prevent, identify and respond to bullying. It also would allow school administrators to transfer bullies to a different class or campus than their victims if the victims parents or guardians request it (under current law only the victim may be transferred) and creates a uniform definition of bullying in the education code, adding cyberbullying. HB 224 would allow school administrators to address cyberbullying that takes place off campus if the electronic communication is received on campus or at a school event or if it substantially disrupts school operations. The bill also includes a requirement that schools report statistics on bullying to the state.

I really like this bill with one - very notable - exception... the reporting requirement. Schools would be required to report bullying based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability. They would not be required to report bullying on the basis of gender identity or expression (GI&E).

Beyond throwing the transgender community under the bus (which is bad enough), this omission creates a glaring loophole that prevents this legislation from being as useful as it could be for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual students. Most of the time when a queer kid is bullied it is not because of who they are attracted to, but because their attackers feel that the victim is not behaving in a gender appropriate way. "Butch" girls and "sissy" boys bear the brunt of the bullies rage, that's not about sexual orientation - that's about gender expression.

Without the inclusion of GI&E in the reporting requirement many school administrators will not report harassment that that does not specifically include a reference to the victims sexual orientation. This will create a loophole where, for instance, bullying a male student for being a "fag" gets the bully in trouble, but bullying them for being a "sissy" doesn't. Bullies are smarter than many people give them credit. They will find this loophole and exploit it.

HB 224 is likely to be the anti-bullying "water bearer" this session. Most, if not all, of the bills designed to address bullying will be referred to the Public Education committee. It is probable that the chairperson for the committee will schedule all of them for public hearing at the same time. This is done for practical reasons. It allows the committee to hear from a number of experts and citizens all at once and to consider the different solutions being offered in direct comparison to each other.

After the hearing one of the Public Education committee members will likely offer a "committee substitute". This is a way of amending the bill in committee by completely replacing it with a new bill on the same topic. The committee substitute will incorporate the preferred solutions offered by the different bills the committee considered in the hearing, creating a kind of super-bill.

Because Strama has a history of carrying this sort of legislation and has been very public in his support for it his bill is likely to be the one that is amended by committee substitution becoming the only anti-bullying bill that makes it out of committee, but with elements of other bills attached. That makes it very important to pay attention to H.B. 224.

It also makes it important for H.B. 224 to have a number of co-authors. Co-authorship is a way for a house member to put their name on another member's bill. It allows them to show their support even before the bill gets to the floor of the house and everybody has a chance to vote on it. Last session this bill had 19 House members who were willing to put their names on it. Including 1 Republican.

Strama will need to talk to his fellow members to get their support. But it is also important that they hear from their constituents. If you feel that HB 224 is a good idea please consider calling your State Representative and asking them to become a co-author. If you do not know who your state representative is you can find out at http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/find-your-representative/

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