AP NEWS

House gives initial nod to school anti-discrimination bill

May 8, 2019

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill aimed at better protecting students from discrimination.

The bill would prohibit discrimination against students in public schools based on age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, marital status, familial status, disability, religion or national origin. Supporters said there is a gap in existing law when it comes to students because while federal anti-discrimination laws apply in schools, the state’s new civil rights unit in the attorney general’s office does not have jurisdiction over such matters.

Rep. Tamara Le, D-North Hampton, said given how much time children spend in school, it’s essential for them to feel safe and connected.

“The state provides robust protection for employees, but there is an even greater need to provide such protections for students,” she said.

The bill, which was sent to the House Finance Committee, passed the state Senate in March. It was recommended by the Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, which was created in 2017 following the near hanging of a biracial boy in Claremont and other racist acts.

Opponents argued unsuccessfully to create a commission to further study the issue. They said they supported the legislation’s goals, but that it raised too many questions, including whether it would apply to students discriminating against peers, and how it might affect school athletic programs.

“This is an important issue and important legislation, but let’s not just pass legislation so we can congratulate ourselves. Let’s not make this a lawyer employment act,” said Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonburo. “Let’s not saddle our school districts with fruitless lawsuits and related costs. Let’s take the time to study the issues and get this right.”

Supporters countered that the issue has been well studied and that the bill was drafted with input from the attorney general’s office. Every other state in the Northeast already has a similar law, they said.

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This story has been corrected to show the bill was sent to the judiciary committee, not finance committee.