While the Louisiana Legislature has turned away most of the anti-bullying bills proposed in the last several years, one has now been approved. It already has the support of Gov. Bobby Jindal. Senate Bill 764, authored by state Sen. Rick Ward, D-Port Allen, is named the Tesa Middlebrook Anti-Bullying Act, named after the 17-year-old Pointe Coupee Parish student who hanged herself from her school's bleachers earlier this year. Last week, the final version of the bill passed 97-0 in the state House and 37-0 in the Senate.
Despite a big push from state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, and state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, in 2011, anti-bullying bills were KO'd by conservative legislators and the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF). This year, despite overwhelming support from educators and national groups on mental illness and equal rights protection, similar bills in the state House and Senate failed. The bills again faced strong opposition from the LFF — which backed a bully bill by state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, exempting philosophical, political or religious beliefs from being considered bullying. That bill was also pulled.
Schroder co-authored Ward's bill, which gives clearer definition to bullying (and cyberbullying) and how to report it. An earlier draft included the same language from Schroder's failed measure. Listed under "exceptions," the bill stated, "This policy shall not be interpreted to infringe upon the speech of rights" and "the religious free speech right of students" under the First Amendment, provided that "such expression does not cause an actual, material disruption of the work of the school." The current bill says the measures should not "infringe upon the right of a school employee or student to exercise their right of free speech."
"This has been a process over the last couple years, and a lot of discussions, a lot of debate," Schroeder told the House. "Unfortunately, it's something we have to deal with."