BATON ROUGE, La. – A bill defining school bullying as harassing, threatening or harming students for reasons including race, religion or sexual orientation was killed by the Louisiana House on Tuesday, amid a behind-the-scenes campaign saying it would provide special rights for gays and cross-dressers.
Rep. Walter Leger III, D-New Orleans, said the bill is needed to beef up existing law, which already requires Louisiana school boards to develop and enforce anti-bullying policies.
His bill defined bullying as intimidating behavior based on race, religion, perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender, ancestry, disability, physical characteristics or clothing.
In recent committee testimony, some opponents said the bill would encourage homosexuality. There was scant mention of that issue on the House floor Tuesday but backers of the bill later said there was a strong campaign, including a flood of e-mails, from opponents who said the bill would create "special rights" for cross-dressers and students who engage in homosexual activity.
On the House floor, opponents said the bill is simply not needed.
"I don't think anyone in this room is for bullying," said Rep. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs.
Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, suggested the issue needs to be studied more to find out how pervasive the problem is.
Leger said the list in the bill is "illustrative" and that providing such definitions would help show school boards what must be done to stop a growing problem of school bullying.
"It doesn't try to force anything on our local school boards except attention," Leger said.
The bill was defeated 28-63.