Anti-Bullying Bills Up in the Air as Senate Committee Considers Education Bill Reauthorization

Posted by Chris Geidner
October 19, 2011 1:45 PM |

Today and Thursday, Oct. 20, the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is slated to consider the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. For more than a year, LGBT advocates have been told that the ESEA reauthorization is the time when two bills aimed at improving the lives of LGBT students would be addressed.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) are the bills. The SSIA would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to include bullying- and harassment-prevention programs, including ones based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The SNDA, modeled after Title IX, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal education nondiscrimination law.

The bills have broad support from Democrats -- which should mean that their inclusion in the bill in the Democratic Senate would be likely. But, neither bill was included in the ESEA reauthorization Manager's Amendment, which was filed on Oct. 17, and it is not clear whether the sponsors of the bills will be offering them as amendments to the ESEA during this week's committee action.

The SNDA was introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.). The Senate bill has 34 co-sponsors, and the House version has 147 co-sponsors. At the end of the 111th Congress, the bill had 127 sponsors and co-sponsors in the House and 32 sponsors and co-sponsors in the Senate.

The SSIA, meanwhile, was introduced by Sens. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and has 31 co-sponsors -- including Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who only signed on to the bill on Oct. 18. At the end of the 111th Congress, the bill had 132 sponsors and co-sponsors in the House and 18 sponsors and co-sponsors in the Senate. The House bill, introduced in the 112th Congress by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) currently has 106 co-sponsors.

In March, Metro Weekly reported:

Over the course of the past nine months, in fact, White House and other administration officials have declined numerous opportunities to endorse either bill and have rarely even mentioned the bills except in response to specific questions about them.

For this story, White House spokesman Shin Inouye repeated a point he's told Metro Weekly several times previously, writing, ''We support the goals of both of these bills. This year, when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is being considered, we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment.''

The circumstances haven't changed since then. Despite the administration's willingness to endorse the Respect for Marriage Act -- a bill that is, by any reasonable measure, unpassable in the 112th Congress -- the White House still has never endorsed either the SNDA or the SSIA.

Asked this week about the White House views on the bills' inclusion in the ESEA, Inouye told Metro Weekly:

We support the goals of both of these efforts.  As the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is being considered, we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment.

Asked today specifically whether the administration is asking HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to include either or both bills in the ESEA reauthorization, the White House had no response.

At this point, it is unclear whether either Sens. Casey, Franken or Kirk -- all of whom sit on the HELP Committee -- will be introducing the bills as amendments, with a spokeswoman for Franken saying today that he still has not decided the course of action to take on the SNDA.

The Franken spokeswoman said at a little past noon today that the committee had adjourned for a recess and that it was unclear if the committee would reconvene today.

[UPDATE @ 4P: A HELP committee spokesman tells Metro Weekly that the mark-up is scheduled for once the Senate goes into recess tonight, but that if that does not happen tonight the committee is scheduled to hold the mark-up at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 20.]

Metro Weekly will have more as the ESEA reauthorization continues.


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