A bill that would change public school discipline rules statewide after a BB gun controversy in Jefferson Parish sparked national attention won final legislative approval Wednesday night.
The measure, House Bill 83, cleared the House 93-0 shortly after the Senate approved it 35-0. The proposal now goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is expected to sign it.
The legislation stems from the suspension of Ka'Mauri Harrison, 9, a fourth-grader in Harvey who was disciplined after he moved a Daisy BB gun out of the way of his younger brother during an online test from his home.
School officials said the presence of the gun, which was visible to the teacher, violated school rules. Ka'Mauri was initially recommended for expulsion, which was later reduced to a six-day suspension.
Critics, including his father Nyron Harrison, complained that the punishment was grossly unfair.
Both father and son appeared before the House Education Committee earlier this month, sparking a rare case of bipartisan praise and making Ka'Mauri something of a celebrity.
The law is set to be named after the fourth-grader.
HB83 would widen the appeal rights of students and parents.
The nationally-watched case of a Harvey fourth-grader suspended in a BB gun controversy arrived at the State Capitol on Wednesday when a Louis…
It would permit students to appeal to the school board and district court suspensions in cases where the initial penalty was expulsion.
The plan would also require officials in all 69 school districts to review discipline policies to account for distance learning – students taking classes from home – that have become common because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I believe we have to do something for virtual learning, certain protocols," said Sen. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles and Senate handler of the bill.
The measure breezed through both chambers with few arguments.
At one point Wes Watts, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said he was concerned that the changes would result in countless suspensions ending up before school boards and courts. Watts is superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish School District.
An amendment added in the Senate Education Committee made clear that the bill only applied to suspensions that were originally expulsions, like the Jefferson Parish case.
"A simple one or two-day suspension doesn't need to go to the court system," Rep. Troy Romero, R-Jennings and chief sponsor of the bill, told the House moments before the final vote.
The legislation also allows families to collect attorney fees if they convince a court that the discipline case stemmed from gross negligence by school officials.
That provision sparked some controversy.
During the brief Senate debate, Sen. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, tried to add an amendment that would allow school boards to collect attorney fees if an appeal had no merit. The Senate rejected Connick's bid 14-21.
Jefferson Parish school officials have said little during the bill's quick trip through the Legislature, citing ongoing litigation.
The bill was pushed by the office of Attorney General Jeff Landry.
The vote took place during a special session that has to end by 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette planned to meet with House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales Wednesday evening to review pending issues before adjournment.
Cortez said there is sentiment to adjourn before Tuesday's deadline and that some lawmakers would like to do so before the weekend.