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Columbia Missourian

House education committee votes to change wording of social media law

By Stephanie Ebbs
September 19, 2011 | 6:35 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — State representatives voted unanimously to implement changes to a proposed social media bill in a Missouri House education hearing on Monday.

The changes require school districts to adopt a policy regarding electronic communication between teachers and students fitting each district's values. Each school district will be responsible for implementing its policy.

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Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he favors local control for three reasons.

"One, it's good public policy to govern as close to home as possible," Kelly said. "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.

Representatives of the House education committee 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.

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.