2004 Regular Session
To: Judiciary, Division A
By: Senator(s) Hewes, King, Kirby, Jackson (15th), Clarke, Gollott
AN ACT TO CREATE THE QUALITY EDUCATION AND TEACHER AND PRINCIPAL PROTECTION ACT; TO PROVIDE LIMITED IMMUNITY FOR TEACHERS FOR TAKING CERTAIN DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS; TO PROVIDE IMMUNITY FOR TEACHERS MAKING REPORTS CONSISTENT WITH FEDERAL LAW REGARDING USE OF CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES OR FIREARMS BY STUDENTS; TO PROVIDE A PENALTY FOR MAKING FALSE ACCUSATIONS OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITY AGAINST TEACHERS; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. This act may be known as the "Quality Education and Teacher and Principal Protection Act."
SECTION 2. The Legislature finds that ensuring the quality of primary and secondary public education is a compelling state interest. The educational environment of students is often not conducive to learning. Violence is sometimes a threat, while other times educators may lack the authority to maintain safety and discipline in the public schools. The filing of meritless lawsuits against school districts, teachers and administrators, and other school employees interferes with attempts to ensure the quality of public education, particularly where such lawsuits arise out of the good-faith efforts of educators to maintain classroom discipline or address threats to student safety. Meritless litigation also diverts financial and personnel resources to litigation defense activities, and reduces the availability of such resources for educational opportunities for students. The Legislature finds that legislation to deter meritless lawsuits and sanction deliberately false reports against educators is a rational and appropriate method to address this compelling public interest.
SECTION 3. As used in this act:
(a) "Educational entity" means the State Board of Education or any other local school board that governs a public primary or secondary schools.
(b) "Employee" means any individual elected or appointed to an educational entity and any individual who is an employee of an educational entity or who provides student-related services to that educational entity on a contractual basis. The term "employee" also means an authorized volunteer who provides student-related services to the educational entity.
SECTION 4. (1) An educational entity or its employees shall not be subject to liability taking any action regarding the supervision, grading, suspension, expulsion or discipline of students while such students are on the property of the educational entity or are under the supervision of the educational entity or its employees. However, this immunity shall not apply if such action violated an express statute, rule, regulation or clearly articulated policy of the state or educational entity. The burden of proof of such a violation shall rest with the plaintiff and must be established by clear and convincing evidence to the court as part of a summary proceeding.
(2) An educational entity and its employees shall not be subject to liability for making a report consistent with federal law to the appropriate law enforcement authorities or officials of an educational entity if the individual making the report has reasonable grounds to suspect that a student is:
(a) Under the influence of alcoholic beverages or a controlled substance not lawfully prescribed to that individual;
(b) In possession of a firearm, alcoholic beverages or a controlled substance not lawfully prescribed to that individual;
(c) Involved in the illegal solicitation, sale or distribution of firearms, alcoholic beverages or a controlled substance not lawfully prescribed to that individual.
SECTION 5. (1) An educational entity shall not be liable for punitive or exemplary damages. An employee shall not be liable for punitive or exemplary damages for acts or omissions within the course and scope of employment.
(2) For the purposes of this act, an employee who acts with specific intent to cause harm shall not be considered as acting within the course and scope of employment.
SECTION 6. (1) Except as otherwise provided in this act, any person eighteen (18) years of age or older who acts with specific intent in making a false accusation of criminal activity against an employee of an educational entity to law enforcement authorities, school district officials or personnel, or both, shall be fined up to Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000.00).
(2) Except as otherwise provided in this act, any public school student between the ages of seven (7) and seventeen (17) who acts with specific intent in making a false accusation of criminal activity against an employee of an educational entity to law enforcement authorities, school district officials or personnel, or both, may, at the discretion of the court, and in accordance with the provisions of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 USCA Section 1400 et seq., be subject to any of the following:
(b) Suspension for a period of time to be determined by the court;
(c) Community service of a type and for a period of time to be determined by the court;
(d) Any other sanction as the court in its discretion may deem appropriate.
(3) The provisions of this act do not apply to statements regarding individuals elected or appointed to a school board.
(4) This act is in addition to and does not limit the civil or criminal liability of those persons who make false statements alleging criminal activity by others.
SECTION 7. (1) In any civil action or proceeding against an educational entity or its employee in which the educational entity or its employee prevails, the court shall award costs and reasonable attorney's fees to the prevailing defendant or defendants. The court in its discretion may determine whether such fees and costs are to be borne by the plaintiff's attorney, the plaintiff, or both.
(2) Expert witness fees may be included as part of the costs awarded under this section.
(3) The provisions of this act shall be deemed to be substantive state law.
SECTION 8. (1) No attorney shall charge, demand, receive or collect for services rendered, fees in excess of twenty-five percent (25%) of any civil judgment rendered against an educational entity or its employee, or of any settlement made.
(2) Any interested person may file a civil action or petition the appropriate court to rescind any provision of the attorney fee contract inconsistent with this act and to compel the disgorgement of any fees paid in excess of the amounts allowed under this act. In addition, a court with jurisdiction over the matter shall impose a fine against the attorney that is equal to or less than the amount of money sought by the attorney in excess of the amount permitted by this act, but in any event not less than Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000.00).
SECTION 9. Unless otherwise provided by statute, the existence of any policy of insurance indemnifying an educational entity against liability for damages is not a waiver of any defense otherwise available to the educational entity or its employees in the defense of the claim.
SECTION 10. This act shall be supplemental to the Mississippi Tort Claims Act.
SECTION 11. This act shall not infringe on any right provided under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 USCA Section 1400 et seq.
SECTION 12. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2004.