YESTERDAY: Pat Smith’s Very Bad Day In The House Education Committee

On a couple of bills before the House Education Committee yesterday, Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge) found herself on the wrong end of an argument.

The bill which garnered the most media attention was HB 407, which was a piece of legislation Smith authored to make the state’s anti-bullying legislation almost oppressive in its comprehensiveness…

It would have required local school boards to expand existing definitions of school bullying, including “fear inducing, threatening or abusive” gestures by writing, gestures or physical acts and to prohibit cyberbullying.

Smith’s plan also required that school officials undergo training to identify harassment and bullying.

Jessica Morton, of Bossier City, said her daughter Haley Danielle Cox was made fun of because she had diabetes, joined ROTC in the ninth-grade and played soccer with passion.

Morton said, after her daughter made a suicide attempt in early 2011, a bid to have friends reach out backfired when the “wrong boy” learned of the effort and sent 150 cruel messages.

She said her daughter took her life on May 20, 2011.

“The girl who once had so much life lost the will to live,” she said.

“Let her life be inspiration for change,” a tearful Morton told the committee.

Adrienne Critcher, who lives in Shreveport, said she is the mother of a gay son who was bullied and made the target of slurs on the playground as a sixth-grader.

“He was an innocent kid,” Critcher said. “He was not used to hearing people talk like that.”

But the problem with the bill was that it enumerated a list of motives for bad behavior that state law would punish – and that’s problematic. The behavior itself certainly needs to be corrected, though it’s worth asking whether that correction isn’t best made by the folks in charge of the schools where the bullying is taking place – but making school officials turn bullies who need school discipline (or a bad ass-kicking as a lesson not to treat their peers that way) into criminal suspects seems like questionable policy.

But the list of thought crimes in Smith’s bill was seen by most of the committee as a real issue. And that’s why freshman Rep. Jeff Thompson (R-Bossier City) offered an amendment which did away with the motives. “I’m far more concerned with the action than the thought,” he said, and mentioned that any enumerated list of categories of kids who might be bullied under Smith’s bill would leave out somebody – and a better bill wouldn’t waste time trying to protect people based on what protected class the victims might fall into but instead go after the activity itself.

Thompson’s amendment made for an interesting scene on the floor, particularly when it passed and Smith then pulled the bill with a nasty admonition that the committee members had “degraded” protection for children…

But while the HB 407 disaster was what made news, another bill before the House Education Committee yesterday was HB 609, Rep. Alan Seabaugh’s bill to make it easier to create independent school districts (we discussed HB 609, and the tactics of its opponents, at some length earlier this week. Seabaugh’s bill was amended to insure that those ISD’s come into being only after local elections – in the area encompassed by the ISD and also in the entire school district affected by the creation of the new one (for example, if Prairieville wanted to set up its own school district apart from Ascension Parish, the voters would need to pass it both in Prairieville and Ascension as a whole), which should have assuaged any concerns about the democratic quality of the bill.

Smith, naturally, rose in opposition to the bill. But she didn’t do so well in arguing against it – especially after another member of the committee got involved…

MFP money does follow the student. Smith might have some interesting theories on mathematics, but they don’t particularly apply here.

HB 407 also drew opposition from the usual suspects, including Louisiana Federation of Teachers president Steve Monaghan…

Our readers might notice the breathtaking disingenuity of Monaghan’s statement here. He’s saying it’s necessary for people in Monroe to vote on whether Southeast Baton Rouge, for example, should create an independent school district. And why should that be the case? Well, perhaps Monaghan doesn’t expect folks to figure out that the vast majority of people in Monroe couldn’t care less about whether Southeast Baton Rouge wants to break away from the East Baton Rouge school district, but there’s a group of people in Monroe, and a lot of other places, who might have a different opinion.

Namely, Monaghan’s union membership, who he’s going to try to mobilize to kill new districts like the SEBR one. He’s arguing that the Legislature ought to make his job of thwarting the will of local electorates easier.

And a discussion of the committee hearing on HB 609 wouldn’t be complete without a bit of video of Jackie Lansdale, the Shreveport teachers’ union boss who put out that letter we discussed earlier this week. She’s got no stronger grasp on reality in real life than she does via e-mail, but she did get kudos from committee chair Steve Carter for her ability to stay within the three-minute time slot afforded to speakers at yesterday’s hearing…

None of those opposing arguments were successful, as Seabaugh’s bill easily passed the committee and will go to the full House.



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