Texas anti-bullying bills introduced

Nolan Hicks

After a summer of well-publicized deaths of several gay teenagers across the nation, two Texas lawmakers have introduced legislation to crack down on bullying in Texas’ public schools.

The two bills — one introduced by State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth, and the other introduced by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin — would require school districts to toughen their anti-bullying policies. It would also provide training for school district staff so they can better deal with bullying and mandate that districts report the number and types of bullying incidents to the Texas Education Agency.

The reporting requirement would mandate school districts to determine if the bullying was a result of a student’s race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

“All Texas children and their parents expect schools to be safe and nurturing environments where the opportunity to learn can be realized,” Davis said. “We hope this proposed legislation will make children feel safer and give their parents peace of mind that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated in Texas schools.”

Strama said the bills were key to updating the state’s anti-bullying laws to deal with the new phenomenon of using the Internet to bully.
“The Texas Legislature has an opportunity to address bullying and cyber-bullying during the next legislative session,” he said.

Equality Texas, one of the largest gay rights groups in the state, has endorsed the bills.

“It includes a present day definition of bullying and creates for the first time, a definition for cyber-bullying — it’s comprehensive in nature,” said Chuck Smith, Equality Texas’ deputy director. “It’s written using education language. It’s something that people who work in schools will not have any difficulty understanding.”

Smith said it was the first time an anti-bullying measure such as the ones introduced by Strama and Davis have been introduced in both the Texas House and Senate.

He also said that they would be lobbying for the measure as a general welfare measure, not as a bill that would expand rights or protections specifically for gay youth.

“It’s not a gay bullying bill,” Smith said. “This is legislation that seeks to deal with bullying for all children and at the end of the day no legislator wants to see a child bullied.”

Smith said this would be the issue that Equality Texas would focus most of their lobbying on because the expanded Republican majority has all but killed hopes for passing a bill that would allow for state employees to receive domestic partner benefits.