The full House of Representatives Thursday jumped over dozens of bills up for debate and went directly to a controversial bullying bill, gutting language in the legislation that would have expanded the existing state anti-bullying law to include protections based on sexual orientation. Despite the watering down of the bill, it still failed final passage by a 53-43 margin.
House Bill 112, known as the “Safe Schools Bill,” was filed by Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans. It made it out of the House Education Committee last week by an 8-4 vote following impassioned exchanges between Badon and opponents of the bill led by social-conservative groups Louisiana Family Forum and the Baptist Convention.
Thursday morning House members approved amendments to Badon's bill filed by Reps. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, and Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport. The amendments killed references to “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, physical characteristic, political persuasion, mental disability, or physical disability, as well as attire or association with others identified by such categories.”
Debate about the bill was passionate and, at times, shrill. Edwards, considered a rising star in the state Democratic party, insisted he wasn’t “carrying water for the [Louisiana] Family Forum.”
But it was Seabaugh who led the charge for the agents of intolerance: “This bill was intended to promote an agenda and force teaching alternative lifestyles to our children,” Seabaugh insisted. “Every person who testified [on behalf of the bill] was either gay or testifying on behalf of someone who is gay, so let’s not delude ourselves about the intent of this bill.” Seabaugh later added, “This language [in the bill] is straight out of the lesbian, gay, transgender playbook.”
Following the approval of the amendments, the bill’s sponsor sounded resigned yet frustrated. “It’s a sad day in Louisiana,” Badon told his fellow lawmakers. “We have the authority and the power to address this issue. It’s a sad day when we won’t stand up and help the parents. For us to sit here and say that the conservative, religious right is going to dictate to us how we’re going to vote, I’m embarrassed by that. You should be ashamed of that. ...You got sidetracked folks — you got sidetracked. You had the old okey-doke pulled on you. ...We turned this issue into something completely different than what it was.”
Lafayette Reps. Page Cortez, a Republican, Rickey Hardy, a Democrat, and independent Joel Robideaux voted in favor of the bill, as did Carencro Democrat Bobby Badon. Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, voted against it.