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UPDATE: Compromise at Core of New MO School Social Media Bill

After an injunction stops a new Missouri social networking law from taking effect, the revised version, Senate Bill 1, is making its way through the legislature during this special session.

UPDATED: 12:45 p.m. Wednesday -

The office of Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-MO, told Patch Senate Bill 1 had its third reading Wednesday in the Missouri Senate and was voted on and passed 33-0. The bill is now headed to the House of Representatives.

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Last month Town and Country - Manchester Patch reported on the controversy and confusion surrounding Senate Bill 54, also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act. It is sponsored by former Ladue school board member and Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, and designed to protect students.

According to the law, a teacher cannot send an email, text message, or have any private interaction with a student, unless both school administrators and the student’s parents have access to the interaction. This also means students and teachers cannot be friends on Facebook.

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As previously reported by , the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) is suing the state over that Missouri social network law claiming it was too vague. MSTA was awarded an injunction on August 26, just two days before the new law was to take effect.

At that time Governor Jay Nixon called for repeals to parts of Senate Bill 54 and Cunningham told Patch she was willing to rework the verbiage to eliminate any confusion among school districts and their staff.

Cunningham now tells Patch that a revised version of the social media portions of Senate Bill 54 may be passed the General Assembly and on the desk of Governor Jay Nixon, ready to be signed into law, as early as next weekend. The bill needs to go through a third reading and vote of approval in the senate - which is scheduled to happen Wednesday - after which it will be sent to the state House of Representatives to be voted on as soon as Thursday.

The revisions to the social media aspects of SB 54 have taken the form of  Senate Bill 1, a bill also sponsored by Cunningham, that has been slated to be debated and voted on during the current special session of the General Assembly. If passed, SB 1 would replace the portions of SB 54 that teachers claimed were confusing. SB 1 is a direct result of the injunction on SB 54, won by the MSTA, that came as a result of Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem agreeing with the MSTA that parts of SB 54 were in fact vague and confusing.

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Cunningham says that SB 1 "keeps [the] intent of the original SB 54, requiring that school districts come up with their own policy in regards to electronic communication."

However, SB 1 is different from SB 54 in two key ways, and Cunningham says that these changes are the result of compromising with the MSTA and addressing their concerns with the original SB 54.

The first change is that every district must have a policy on social media in place by March 1, 2012. The date had previously been Jan 1, 2012.

Secondly, the language of the bill was expanded from “teacher” to include “employee or staff” so that it is clear that it is not only the school’s teachers for whom there must be a clearly defined policy in regard to social networking communication with students.

With those two changes in place, SB 1 received the endorsement of the MSTA as well as, according to Cunningham, every other major education group in the state.

“When we looked the language [of SB 1] it had pretty much gotten back to what we were looking for,” MSTA Director of Communication Scott Fuller said.

When asked whether or not Governor Jay Nixon would sign SB 1 when and if it does end up on his desk, Nixon’s Press Secretary Scott Holste told Patch that “because so many changes can happen to a bill before it reaches the Governor’s desk, we’re not going to be able to answer that now.”

Fuller said the MSTA is in a "wait in see mode" because of the many potentialities that exist for the current SB 1 to be altered before being signed into law as well as the possibility it may not be signed into law at all. He said the MSTA will not withdraw the lawsuit until a bill containing language satisfactory to the MSTA is finalized and signed into law.

“I haven’t seen the latest (version), so I can’t really comment on it specifically,” Spokesperson Cathy Kelly tells Patch. “We understand there was some confusion and we’re glad it’s being addressed.”

*Local editor Gabrielle Biondo contributed to this report.

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