House committee passes local control change to Facebook law
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House committee passes local control change to Facebook law

Date: September 19, 2011
By: Stephanie Ebbs
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB1

JEFFERSON CITY - Representatives voted unanimously to implement changes to the social media bill in a Missouri House Education hearing on Monday.   

The substitute requires school districts to adopt a policy regarding electronic communication between teachers and students that fits their values. Each school district will be responsible for implementing the policy.

"I, myself, favor local control for two reasons, well, for three reasons," said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia. "One, it's good public policy to govern as close to home as possible. Second, Chillicothe may do it right and West Plains may do it wrong and the rest of the districts will learn from Chillicothe. Third, Columbia may do it right, and Springfield may do it right, both constitutional, but different. Reflecting the different values of the two communities."

Changes in the bill's language focus on prohibiting improper communication instead of all electronic communication, a complaint made by teachers after the original bill was signed into law. Representatives from the Missouri State Teacher's Association, Missouri National Education Association and Missouri School Board Association spoke in favor of the bill's new wording Monday.

A Cole County judge blocked the law from taking effect after the teacher's association filed a lawsuit, calling the restrictions a first amendment violation.

"The best thing we can do is allow these districts to decide how they want to allow the communication," Mike Wood said on behalf of the teacher's association. Wood said the new wording might not stop inappropriate contact between teachers and students but allows appropriate communication.    

Representatives said the biggest objections to the bill were because the original wording was taken out of context. Restricting electronic communication was intended to protect students and teachers from false allegations of misconduct. Missouri is one of the worst states in the nation, with 2,500 cases of teachers losing their licenses because of sexual advances toward students.

The bill will now go to the full House for a vote. The original version of the bill was signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon in July, but it was blocked from taking effect at the end of August due to concerns about free speech violations. The legislature's version exceeds the governor's agenda he set for the special session. Nixon's agenda for the special session limited the legislature to a repeal of the bill; he did not specify that legislators could make changes to the bill's language.

The governor's office would not comment on whether he would sign the new bill into law.

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