A scaled-down plan aimed at curbing bullying in public schools, without special protections for gay students and others, cleared hurdles in the state Senate and House on Wednesday.
One of the proposals, Senate Bill 764, breezed through the Senate 33-0.
Meanwhile, a similar measure won approval in the House Education Committee without objection after the sponsor dropped efforts to require specific prohibitions against bullying for reasons of sexual orientation, disabilities, race and other issues.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and sponsor of the legislation, said after the vote that she dropped the list because the proposal would not win committee approval otherwise.
Smith said her bill would also allow teachers and other employees to undergo training to detect bullying, which she said could pinpoint specific problem areas.
“This is an issue in our schools,” she said. “We need something done.”
The measure, which is a substitute for House Bill 407, next faces action in the full House.
Backers may unite behind one measure in hopes of winning final approval before adjournment on June 4.
Both bills are designed to strengthen Louisiana’s anti-bullying law.
However, the chief dispute previously has been whether any such bill should include specific bans aimed at protecting students that some lawmakers contend are especially vulnerable to harassment in public schools.
State Sen. Rick Ward III, D-Maringouin and sponsor of the Senate measure, has said the plan was inspired in part by the March suicide of Tesa Middlebrook, a 17-year-old student who attended Pointe Coupee High School.
Relatives of the girl said they think a prolonged period of school bullying led to her death.
The bill would define bullying as including obscene gestures; written, electronic or verbal communications; and physical acts that put students in fear of harm.
It would also include hitting, kicking, pushing or damaging personal property as well as repeatedly and purposefully shunning others from activities.
Students and parents could file complaints with school officials.
Under the bill, parents and students could appeal any lack of response by school officials to the local school board and to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Both bills would require a minimum of four hours of training each year for school employees, including bus drivers, on how to recognize bullying and ways to intervene when it happens.
Under the House bill, school leaders would be required to conduct investigations of bullying allegations within one day of hearing about the incident.
The review would have to be finished within 10 school days of the written complaint.
Parents would be notified of the allegations.
The House education panel also approved Smith’s House Bill 806, which would expand an annual student survey done by the state Department of Education to include questions on sexual behavior.
The results could aid future efforts by Smith to require the teaching of sex education in public schools.
Her efforts to pass such a bill this year failed in committee twice on tie votes.