Florida close to passing 'baggy pants' bill

Florida state Sen. Gary Siplin has been trying for years to get kids to pull up their trousers. Now it looks as if his "baggy pants" bill might finally become law.

How much effect this will have is another matter. All school districts throughout the state already have dress codes that prohibit students from showing off their underwear — or worse.

But Siplin, an Orlando Democrat, thinks the ban should be more than just a school or district policy. He wants the force of state law behind it.

The public, he said, "is tired of seeing underwear. It's nasty and dirty."

Siplin's bill, SB 228, would ban students from wearing clothes that expose underwear or "body parts" on campus during school hours. It passed in the Senate in March, and a similar bill (HB 61) is making its way through the Florida House.

He first introduced a bill in 2005 that would have criminalized droopy pants, making it a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a $50 fine and 10 days in jail.

Organizations such as the Florida NAACP criticized the bill as discriminatory, saying it targeted largely minority students. Legislators shut down his proposal several times. They questioned the need for a law because principals have the authority to discipline students for dress code violations.

"It must be part of our politics to teach our kids how to get a job," Siplin said. "And dressing [appropriately] should be part of that."

Students caught with their pants down for the first time would receive a verbal warning. Parents would get a call from the principal.

After a second offense, students would not be allowed to take part in extracurricular activities for up to five days. The principal also would call a meeting with the parents.

Further violations would require a maximum three-day in-school suspension, 30-day expulsion from extracurricular activities and a letter to the parents.

Danielle Prendergast, public policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the bill would disproportionally affect minorities, particularly black students. "Look at the pop culture. Who wears the pants low?" she argued.

Siplin, who is black, countered: "It's not confined to minorities. I'm sure you've seen white kids do it."

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