Legislation designed to define what constitutes bullying among school students died in the Louisiana House Thursday amid complaints that it would promote gay lifestyles.
The Louisiana Family Forum, which proclaims to be a voice for traditional families by push-ing biblical principles, charac-terized House Bill 112 as a ho-mosexual agenda.
The organization issued notes to lawmakers alleging that the legislation would introduce sexual orientation into the classroom.
The bill would spell out that educators need to intervene when schoolchildren are bullied by their classmates because of race, color, sexual orientation or a litany of other characteris-tics.
Proponents said bullying is not being adequately addressed in the public school system. Opponents said they want to punish the act of bullying with-out listing in law what might trigger it.
HB112 fell 10 votes short of passage with 43 lawmakers vot-ing for it and 54 voting against it.
The legislation’s sponsor, state Rep. Austin Badon, said the Louisiana Family Forum in-timidated lawmakers.
“The hate spilled out – the ig-norance of the fact that there are gays and lesbians all over the world,” Badon, D-New Orleans, said after the bill failed to pass.
Gene Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Fo-rum, attended the debate but downplayed his organization’s role in the failure of the legisla-tion.
“That was the kind of thing that was amusing. All I did was drop a floor note,” Mills said in an interview after the debate. “I think our position was under-stood.”
Mills said he does not support the bullying of homosexuals.
In an e-mail to supporters, Mills said the bill would result in obligating public schools “to instruct in the normalcy of ho-mosexual conduct.”
Debate on the bill began with legal arguments over whether to define bullying and ignited into heated allegations that the legislation was based on a gay and lesbian playbook.
“This bill is presented to pro-mote an agenda and to force teaching of alternative life-styles to our elementary school kids in our public schools,” said state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport.
He said educators need to ad-dress the bully’s act instead of what motivated it. He said eve-ryone who testified in favor of the bill in a House committee was gay or there on behalf of gay people. Proponents said that allegation was untrue and said testimony came from a va-riety of sources.
“We are trying to order the public school system to adopt into their code of student con-duct this language which is straight out of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender model legislation playbook,” Seabaugh said.
He said the next step is law-suits to force schoolchildren to read books that they should not read.
Seabaugh successfully of-fered an amendment that he said was necessary to avoid psychoanalyzing a fifth grader for why he did something. His amendment defined bullying as “any intimidating, threatening, or abusive gesture, written, verbal, or physical act” without describing that it might be mo-tivated by sexual orientation and other specific factors.
Badon said the amendment promoted intolerance.
State Rep. Patricia Smith struggled to keep her voice at a normal volume when she rose from her House desk to re-spond to Seabaugh’s amend-ment.
Smith, D-Baton Rouge and a former School Board member, accused Seabaugh of diminish-ing the hateful words that are used to bully children.
“I am very upset by what you just said because I do not like Family Forum. I will state it here right now on the floor. I do not like Family Forum … be-cause their perception of any-thing that’s different from what they perceive is that they feel it’s always going to be taught to children,” Smith said.
Badon’s bill asks legislators to create a safe school environ-ment for children – not slip something into their curricu-lum, she said. Smith encour-aged Seabaugh to visit a school to learn the difference.
Public school systems already are required to adopt policies prohibiting harassment, intimi-dation and bullying among stu-dents. Six parishes, including East Baton Rouge, are exempt from the provision.
As initially presented to the House, Badon’s bill would have deleted the exemption and would have defined the prohib-ited acts as “any intimidating, threatening, or abusive gesture or written, verbal or physical act.”
The gesture or utterance would have to be perceived as being motivated by “an actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, an-cestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender … mental disability, or physical disabil-ity.”
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, tried to soften the bill by deleting the definition of ac-tual or perceived characteris-tics. Instead, the school system would determine whether a gesture or utterance was offen-sive and motivated by an un-named characteristic.
Edwards said he was not try-ing to gut the bill or advocate for the Louisiana Family Fo-rum.
He said he wanted to strengthen the legislation by giving the school systems flexi-bility in determining what to address.
Despite Edwards’ amend-ment and Seabaugh’s success-ful push to further narrow the legislation, the House rejected the bill. Edwards voted for it. Seabaugh did not.
Some lawmakers questioned the necessity of the legislation while others said bullied schoolchildren are killing themselves despite the law al-ready on the books.
“Principals and teachers are almost getting to the point where they have to be a psy-chologist,” said state Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville.
Badon said his bill does not promote homosexuality.
He told opponents that they should be ashamed for not help-ing to create a safe environ-ment for children.
“Everybody’s different; not one person in here has a clone,” he said. “There’s no way anyone in here has a right to say a per-son’s lifestyle is wrong.”
Voting FOR the anti-bullying bill (43): Reps. Abramson, Arnold, Aubert, A. Badon, B. Ba-don, , Baldone, Barrow, Billiot, Bishop, Bros-sett, Burrell, Carter, Connick, Cortez, Dixon, Downs, Edwards, Franklin, Gallot, Hardy, Hensgens, Hines, Honore, G. Jackson, M. Jack-son, , Johnson, R. Jones, LaFonta, LeBas, Leger, Moreno, Norton, Pugh, Ritchie, Ro-bideaux, Roy, Schroder, P. Smith, St. Ger-main, Stiaes, Thibaut, Thierry and Williams.
Voting AGAINST HB (54): Reps. Barras, Bur-ford, H. Burns, T. Burns, Carmody, Champagne, Chandler, Chaney, Cromer, Danahay, Doerge, Dove, Ellington, Fannin, Foil, Geymann, Greene, Guinn, Harrison, Hazel, Henry, Hill, Hoffmann, Howard, Hutter, Huval, Katz, Kleckley, LaBruzzo, Lambert, Landry, Ligi, Little, Lopinto, Lorusso, McVea, Montoucet, Morris, Nowlin, Pearon, Ponti, Pope, Richard, Richardson, Seabaugh, Simon, Smiley, G. Smith, J. Smith, Talbot, Templet, White, Willmott, Wooton
NOT Voting (8): Speaker Tucker and Reps. Anders, Armes, Gisclair, Guillory, Henderson, S. Jones, and Monica.