State Rep. John Ragan says the fresh round of criticism he has faced for sponsorship of so-called “don’t say gay” bill is uninformed and unfair because he was trying to completely transform the bill so that it had “absolutely nothing to do” with homosexuality.
“It really irritates me in a major fashion,” said Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, in an interview.
An article posted on both The Daily Kos and The Huffington Post chides StudentsFirst, a national education reform organization, for declaring Ragan a Tennessee “educational reformer of the year” while he was sponsor of the “don’t say gay” bill (HB1332).
“The latest version would have forced select Tennessee school officials to notify parents of children who privately discussed their sexual orientation, essentially dictating forced ‘outing’ of kids, even against their own objections,” the article says. “Ragan’s proposed education bill is more than just ignorant and wrong, and bad policy, it’s downright dangerous and does anything but ‘put students first.’ ”
A controversial law on “cyberbullying” that was enacted last year will be revised in an attempt to assure its constitutionality under a rewrite sent to the governor by the Senate.
Senators debated the bill (HB2641) only about 10 minutes before giving it unanimous approval. The House had a prolonged and spirited debate that included defeat of disabling amendments by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge.
The rewrite bill was brought by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, who had sponsored the 2011 law that drew heavy criticism after passage. Acknowledging their first effort raised constitutional questions, sponsors worked with the attorney general’s office, the American Civil Liberties Union and others to draft a rewrite.
The idea is to have electronic communications covered by the state’s anti-harassment law. The problem, the sponsors said, was that the 2010 law made it a crime to send an electronic communication that would “frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress.” That was deemed too vague. The rewrite basically changes that to simply “threaten harm.”
The need for such a law was illustrated by four suicides by Tennessee teenagers in the past year “all pointing to cyberbullying,” Ketron said.
In the House, Ragan led opposition and filed amendments, including one that would have repealed the general anti-harassment law that has been on the books since 1989.
Ragan said the law could be used to prosecute the display of religious symbols and brought to the floor a sheet with 11 printed symbols as examples. They included a swastika, which he said was used by some American Indians in ceremonies, and a cross with a flame, which he said was the symbol of the United Methodist Church.
Curtiss said Ragan was confusing “threaten” with “offend.”
The Ragan amendment was defeated 65-28. After defeat of that and another Ragan amendment, the bill itself was approved 76-14.
NASHVILLE – A proposed rewrite of so-called “don’t say gay” legislation calls for local school systems to make decisions on discussion of homosexuality in classrooms under guidelines set forth in the revised legislation.
The guidelines would allow teachers to “answer in good faith” questions on the subject posed to an instructor by a student or students. They also authorize school guidance counselors, nurses and others to deal with students “whose circumstances present issues involving human sexuality.”
The bill (SB49) was scheduled for debate Wednesday in the House Education Committee, but was postponed until next week after Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, announced that he had produced an amendment to rewrite the bill.
The Associated Press reports that the start of the committee meeting was delayed 15 minutes while Republicans huddled in Speaker Beth Harwell’s office with an unidentified member of the Haslam administration to discuss the governor’s concerns with the bill.
As approved by the Senate last year, the measure declares that “any instruction or materials made available or provided at or to a public elementary or middle school shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science.” The provision, which supporters say would apply to discussions of homosexuality, would apply in grades kindergarten through eight.
As rewritten by the proposed amendment, the bill requires all school systems to adopt “policies and procedures” to assure that discussions of sexuality “are age appropriate for the intended student audiences.” The policies and procedures are to be in place by January, 2013.
Discussions “inconsistent with natural human reproduction” are deemed “inappropriate” in grades k-8 under the proposal. But the amendment goes on to state that local education agencies cannot prohibit:
-“Any instructor from answering in good faith any question or series of questions, germane and material to the course, asked of the instructor and initiated by a student or students enrolled in the course.”
-“Any school counselor, nurse or other authorized employee of the LEA (local education agency) from counseling a student who is engaging in, or who may be at risk of engaging in, behavior injurious to the physical or mental health and well-being of the student or another person.”
-“Any school counselor, nurse or other authorized employee of the LEA from appropriately responding to a student whose circumstances present issues involving human sexuality.”
Dunn, who last week argued that would not have many of the impacts that opponents claim, said the amendment “just spells out what I said” and incorporates it into the proposed law.
“People are saying that people can’t talk,” he said. “This says, yes, they can,” under specified circumstances.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, also announced at Wednesday committee meeting that he has prepared an amendment to the bill that would specifically declare provisions of the measure would have no impact on an “anti-bullying” law enacted in the last legislative session.