House Bill 1942, the anti-bullying bill, passed smoothly out of the Texas House Tuesday 102 to 34.
The bill updates the current definition of bullying to include “cyber-bullying,” but restricts the school’s authority to on-campus or school-related activities. It also provides training to help teacher identify and deal with bullying, and includes a provision which requires the bully to be transferred to another school rather than the victim.
Not long ago, passing the bill didn’t look like it would be so easy. Lawmakers failed to pass similar legislation last session, and since then there have been four bullying related suicides. While there were over a dozen anti-bullying and anti-”cyber-bullying” bills filed this year, this is the only one to get out of committee and onto the House floor. Civil liberty advocates, religious rights groups and social conservatives created a strange-bedfellows coalition, opposing many of the anti-bullying measures proposed. Civil liberty groups were concerned that a loose definition of “bullying” and “cyber-bullying” would violate students’ first amendment rights. Religious rights groups and social conservatives argued that language in some anti-bullying bills would make a privileged class for LGBT individuals, while school administrators feared that reporting and training provisions would equate to unfunded mandates.
After weeks of negotiations, HB 1942 garnered the bi-partisan support needed to pass the House. Although the bill was carried by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, it is the collective work of the Democrats and Republicans assigned to the subcommittee on bullying. Much of the language in the bill came from Rep. Mark Strama’s HB 224.
Strama, who championed the anti-bullying cause in 2009, admits that he had to make some concessions. “Some of the things that had to be dropped out are things I would have liked to have seen in the bill,” Strama said, “but at this point, anything that causes friction to the bill risks killing the bill and that’s not a risk I am willing to take.”
There wasn’t much friction on the floor though, and the bill passed without a single member speaking against it. There were two amendments tacked onto the bill by Longview Republican David Simpson. One would give victims of bullying special self-defense training and the second would allow those victims to use “reasonable” self defense against bullies without risk of punishment.
The bill will now move onto Senate committee for approval.