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California legislature passes bills on anti-bullying and tenant rights

SACRAMENTO -- The California legislature has been busy this week, passing bills to fight anti-LGBT bullying on college campuses and on tenant rights to free speech.

Both bills go to the Governor's desk.

Anti-LGBT bullying bill

Late Wednesday, the California State Senate passed the Equality and Equal Access in Higher Education bill (AB 620).

Introduced by Assemblymember Marty Block (D-San Diego) and sponsored by Equality California, the bill would help reduce bullying and harassment against LGBT students and staff at public colleges and universities throughout California. The legislation would require public colleges and universities to include a policy on harassment and intimidation as part of its student code of conduct and require implementation of a number of the 2009 California Postsecondary Education Commission recommendations, including requiring that there be staff designated to address the unique needs of LGBT students, staff, and faculty.

“Students attending our public colleges and universities deserve a campus that is serious about providing a safe environment where all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can excel to their fullest academic potential,” Block said. “Sadly, bullying and harassment continue to be a primary concern for LGBT students on campus and is often cited when determining why they underperform or drop out. Discriminatory behavior should not be tolerated under any circumstances and I have been proud to work with Equality California and my colleagues in moving this important piece of legislation through the Legislature and to the Governor.”

The bill also codifies in state law the practice, already put into place by many universities, of collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity in the same manner as gender, race, ethnicity and disability, on voluntary demographics sections of university forms. Additionally, the bill updates the state’s higher education code to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression as classes protected against discrimination in portions of the code where this is not currently specified.

“Over the last few years we have raised tremendous awareness about the harm to children caused by bullying in schools,” Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia said. “But it is important to remember that bullying does not end when students are handed a high school diploma. Bullying that begins in elementary school can continue into adulthood, many times manifesting itself as adult hate crimes. We thank Assemblymember Block for his leadership on this legislation, an essential bill in reducing the harassment and bullying experienced by LGBT students of any age and the harm that results because of it.”

A 2008 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES) found that LGBT students face many challenges that require additional campus services and resources for them to be successful in college. The survey found that, compared to their heterosexual peers, LGBT students, because of discrimination, face higher rates of mental health challenges, sexual health risks, substance abuse, and family acceptance issues leading to negative health outcomes. Data collected also revealed that 33% of LGBT students report having serious depression concerns — 50% higher than heterosexual students. In addition, 93% of heterosexual students said they feel “respected on campus,” compared to only 73% of LGBT students.

AB 620 also encourages college campuses to identify a point-person for addressing the needs of LGBT faculty, students and staff on campus and to add the individual to their respective personnel portfolios in student affairs.

Bill protecting tenant rights to free speech

Sen. Christine Kehoe’s (D-San Diego) legislation to allow renters to display political signs in their apartments and homes passed the Assembly on Thursday with bipartisan support and now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration.

“Renters deserve the right to participate in our democracy and express their views just as much as homeowners,” Kehoe said. “There is no reason to continue this ‘second class’ status for the 40 percent of Californians who are renters and wish to post signs supporting candidates.”

SB 337 would allow tenants to post signs for political candidates and ballot measures in the windows of their apartments and homes. Current law allows residents in mobile home parks, homeowners’ associations, and common interest developments to display similar signs, but such protections don’t apply to renters.

SB 337 received support from the American Civil Liberties Union.