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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 27, 2006

Ohio House passes anti-bully bill after weakening it

Columbus--The Ohio House of Representatives passed a significantly weakened bill designed to protect youth from bullying in schools on January 24.

House Bill 276, introduced by Rep. Jimmy Stewart of Athens, was criticized originally by LGBT youth advocates because it didn�t list characteristics for which students are often bullied, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

A floor amendment to add them failed with 40 votes, one of them Stewart�s.

Proponents of adding the categories pointed to studies released by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network indicating that measures that do not specify groups of students are less effective, often precipitously so.

While none of the testimony on the bill in the Education Committee was against adding the categories to the bill, many speakers testified in favor of doing so.

State Rep. Brian Williams of Akron, a former superintendent of Akron Public Schools, said in a press release that Speaker John Husted of Kettering would not allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote if the categories were enumerated.

During the session on January 24, Rep. Dale Miller of Cleveland offered an amendment that would specify �actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, sex, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other distinguishing characteristic, or based on the other student�s association with a person distinguished by the actual or perceived� categories.

Rep. Larry Flowers of Reynoldsburg immediately moved to table the amendment, killing further discussion.

It was tabled on a predominantly party-line vote, with Stewart, Derrick Seaver of Minster and Tom Brinkman of Cincinnati being the only Republicans opposing the end of discussion on it.

Other floor amendments were included in the final bill, although the effect they will have on it is either deleterious or in question.

Rep. Diana M. Fessler of New Carlisle introduced an amendment to switch responsibility for creating a model anti-bullying policy from the state Department of Education to the Ohio Board of Education, a body criticized by LGBT youth advocates for being made up of religious conservatives.

Rep. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, long a target of concern for his relationship with the anti-gay Citizens for Community Values and his work with attorney David Langdon, introduced two amendments designed to further neuter the bill.

The first inserted the phrase, �which shall not infringe on any student�s rights under the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.� That amendment passed quickly.

His second amendment, however, was challenged. It inserted into the law the sentence, �This section does not create a new cause of action or a substantive legal right for any person.�

Miller moved to table the amendment, but his motion was defeated 35-62.

Lynne Bowman, executive director of Equality Ohio, expressed concern over Seitz� second amendment, noting that she had two attorneys examining it to determine the effect it will have on the law.

While the bill was far from what advocates for queer youth wanted, Bowman stressed the positives of the day�s session.

�We are thrilled that Dale Miller introduced an amendment including enumeration that garnered support from 40 members of the House of Representatives,� she said. �We are particularly pleased that Rep. Jimmy Stewart, the original sponsor, voted in favor of the floor amendment.�

�It�s concerning that our representatives still did not see the need to protect all children on the final vote, and we are concerned about some of the additional floor amendments that were put forward and approved,� Bowman continued. �We will be exploring the further to define what they truly do to the bill.�

The bill now goes to the Ohio Senate, where Equality Ohio has promised renewed lobbying to add specified categories to it.

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