Amended corporal punishment bill clears House on third attempt

Alena Noakes brings us the latest developments on House Bill 649, which takes a look at the nature of corporal punishment in Louisiana public schools.
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 7:07 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (KALB) - After failing to pass twice this session by an incredibly slim margin, House Bill 649, which sought to eliminate the use of corporal punishment in Louisiana public schools, cleared the House last night in a 70-28 vote.

However, Rep. Stephanie Hilferty (R-District 94) was unable to hold to the provision eliminating the practice completely, instead deciding to take a different step forward.

“I think I understood that, at this point, the legislature’s will, or at least the House side’s will, was that it be a parental choice,” said Hilferty.

Hilferty filed an amendment providing for an opt-in process to be implemented in all schools receiving state funding. Those schools will need to distribute a form for parents to explicitly grant permission for the use of corporal punishment as a means to discipline their child.

The bill, however, does not eliminate corporal punishment completely, instead, it retains a school board’s ability to determine whether they will still have the option available.

For instance, the Rapides Parish School Board voted on May 5 to eliminate their corporal punishment policy completely. The decision comes just weeks after Phoenix Magnet Elementary School’s Principal John Grimes was indicted on a charge of “cruelty to juveniles” for an incident involving corporal punishment administered to a four-year-old.

However, what seemed to be the point that tipped votes in favor of passage is that it retains parental choice.

“If you believe that you should, as a parent, that you shouldn’t have to opt your child out of getting a vaccine, or if you should opt your child out of having sex education taught in the classroom,” said Rep. Barry Ivey (R-District 65) during deliberation on the bill. “If you believe those should be opt-in issues, then this is a situation where you should also believe, as a parent, it is something that you should choose to opt-in to, instead of going through the hassle and the headache to opt-out of.”

Among those votes making way for passage were Central Louisiana Representatives Chuck Owen (R-District 30) and Gabe Firment (R-District 22), who had previously been opposed to the bill.

“[Hilferty] had worked with a number of authors, a number of other legislators, who were adamantly against it, and they came to the will of the House and said, ‘This is okay now,’” explained Owen. “And so I read it myself, and I said, ‘Okay, Vernon and Beauregard are going to continue to do what they choose to do.’”

“I think that’s consistent with my philosophy that parents need to be involved in their child’s education and need a say in how the child’s disciplined,” said Firment. “It also maintains corporal punishment as a disciplinary alternative.”

HB 649 now awaits Senate consideration.

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