Anti-bullying bill in jeopardy

From: http://www.q-notes.com/2832/anti-bullying-bill-in-jeopardy/

Passed in committee, Right-wing attempts picking off supporters before floor vote

by Matt Comer | June 17th, 2009

A bill that would protect North Carolina students from harassment and bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender-identity passed a key House committee on Tuesday, June 16, as right-wing and anti-gay Christian fundamentalist organizations attempted to stop the bill.

Sponsored by Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover) the bill had already cleared the Senate before passing 9-5 in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill could come up for a vote as early as Thursday or as late as next week.

Equality North Carolina executive director Ian Palmquist told Q-Notes late Wednesday afternoon that they are doing everything they can to get the bill passed.

“The vote count is extremely tight and the right-wing is working really heavily to peel off any vote they can,” he said. “Any moderate Republican or Democrat is a target.”

In last year’s session, the House passed an inclusive version of the School Violence Prevention Act once before it headed to the Senate and twice when it again approved the same version after a conference committee ironed out disagreements with a differing Senate version. The fight this year is proving to be more difficult.

“The House did pass it last time, but the right-wing and Republican leadership have effectively made this bill just about that specific language [of the enumerated categories of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender-identity’] in the minds of many legislators,” Palmquist said. “I think that is what’s making it closer this time.”

Equality NC is encouraging supporters to go to their website and send an action alert email to their legislators. “We strongly encourage people to follow that up with a phone call, to let them know they support the bill,” Palmquist said.

Supporters can participate in the action alert here: eqfed.org/campaign/HouseSVPA2

In the committee meeting on Tuesday, the leading opponent of the bill in the House, Minority Leader Skip Stam (R-Wake) said same-sex parents are “more dangerous than second-hand smoke.” Stam also “argued that explicitly protecting gay kids from bullying would lead to pedophilia and gay marriage,” WUNC public radio reported.

A second bill of interest to Equality NC and other equality and child welfare advocates is the Healthy Youth Act. It would create better and more accurate comprehensive sex health courses for students. The bill has already passed the House and awaits a vote in the Senate this week. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had been scheduled for a floor vote on Thursday, June 18.

Sean Kosofsky, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, a member of a coalition working to pass the Healthy Youth Act, said the Senate version does not go far enough to protect and educate students.

“Most of our coalition believes that the Senate version, although superior to current law, is inferior to the House version,” he told Q-Notes. “It is a complicated bill in the Senate; it does other good things that the House version doesn’t do, buyt mostly we are not happy with with the Senate version.”

Echoing Kosofsky, Palmquist said the Senate version would still subject students to inaccurate and outdated information currently being taught in the state’s abstinence-until-marriage courses.

Kosofsky said his coalition is working hard to get the bill changed in the Senate, before it is passed. He said ironing out differences through a House and Senate conference committee would be “the last resort.”

Gov. Beverly Perdue has yet to take a public stance on either the School Violence Prevention Act or Healthy Youth Act this year. Palmquist said he fully expects the governor to “keep her commitment and sign the bills when they get to her desk.”

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