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|Bullying bill on hold at General Assembly|
|by Matt Schafer|
|March 17, 2010 22:01|
In a year where a growing budget shortfall casts a long shadow across every conversation at the Georgia Capitol, one bill aimed at protecting Georgia students faces an uncertain future in the House.
State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Atlanta) made a last-minute floor maneuver March 11 to save a bill that would expand the definition of bullying while requiring schools to develop strict guidelines tailored to curb bullying in elementary through high schools.
After a debate where several lawmakers questioned the merits of the bill, Jacobs survived a vote that would have moved the bill back to the House Rules Committee, where similar legislation has died in previous sessions. Jacobs then asked the bill be tabled, which would allow him to ask for a floor vote without another committee hearing. “It looked like it was tenuous, and there was a motion to recommit the bill to Rules,” Jacobs said. “It was clear to me that we were in trouble, but after the vote was conducted I made a motion to table and no one objected to moving it to the table.”
There were roughly 40 lawmakers missing from the floor during the debate and Jacobs did not want to risk the possibility of losing a vote.
“We’re going to take a breath, regroup and charge the hill again,” Jacobs said, but declined to talk further strategy. “I do have a general idea of where things stand on both sides of the aisle, but I’d rather not go into details.”
No anti-LGBT bills
Jacobs’ bullying bill is the top priority for Georgia Equality, a statewide LGBT political group. GE Executive Director Jeff Graham called it the most significant piece of equal rights legislation this year.
“There has not been a lot of legislation that has passed through one chamber, much less both chambers this year. Thee focus on the budget has slowed everything down, but HB 927 continues to move and move forward,” Graham said.
Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), who is gay, agreed that “everything seems to be overshadowed by the budget.”
“I’m on six committees, doing my thing and making sure no one qualifies against me,” she said. All seats in the General Assembly are up for election this year.
Drenner said she is watching out for any anti-LGBT legislation, such as efforts to curtail gay adoption or foster parenting, but none have been introduced. She expressed disappointment that the anti-bullying measure, which she co-sponsored, was tabled in the House.
Lobbying for change
Georgia Equality joined with MEGA Family Project and the ACLU on March 10 to lobby lawmakers on several bills. Grant Park resident Sam Romo came out to support Jacobs’ bill even though his lawmakers, Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) and Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta), already support the bill.
“I came down to support Georgia Equality because the anti-bullying bill is something important to them and I wanted to help support Georgia Equality and the community,” Romo said.
Jacobs said the bill became a priority for him after DeKalb County fifth grader Jaheem Herrera committed suicide after coming home from school last year. The family contends Herrera was bullied and relentlessly called gay; the school admits he may have been called gay but said Herrera was not bullied.
Some progressive lawmakers like Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan are supporting Jacobs’ bill although Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus) has offered the “Jaheem Herrera-Bianca Walton Safe School Climate Act.” That measure would offer specific protection for several categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity, but it is not moving.
Jacobs’ bill does not specifically discuss sexual orientation. Instead, it would beef up the state’s definition of bullying, including expanding it from covering only sixth through twelfth grades to covering students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
“I feel that [Hugley’s] bill is a little more comprehensive, but Mike Jacobs is a Republican and his bill is moving forward,” Morgan said.
Photo: Craig Washington (left) joined Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham at a lobbying day at the General Assembly. (Photo by Matt Schafer) Dyana Bagby contributed.
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