Anti-bullying bill continues on its tortured path
Beth Hawkins, MinnPost, March 4, 2014 – If Senate File 826 becomes the law of the land, it will be after following a path so tortured that it might serve as a graduate exam in parliamentary procedure.
Since 2 a.m. on May 20, the Minnesota Safe and Supportive Schools Act has been “lying on a table” at the State Capitol awaiting resurrection. Its DFL authors tabled it — and this is where the expression comes from — in the final hours of the 2013 Legislature when their GOP counterparts threatened a 10-hour, session-slaughtering filibuster.
On Thursday, the anti-bullying measure will be dusted off in the venue where it was last considered, the Senate Finance Committee. There will be a hearing and there will be some grumbling — and not from the measure’s original foes, who argued long and hard last year that it threatened freedom of religion.
If it makes it out of committee — expected but not assured — it will be with a “delete-all” amendment, meaning much of the current text will be stricken and replaced by new language.
From there, it would go to the floor, or the full Senate, after which it would need to be revisited at least once by both legislative chambers and likely a conference committee. Assuming everyone approves the finessed and re-finessed language — which cannot change after conference — finally it would go to Gov. Mark Dayton for signing.
Why the tortured route for a measure most folks ostensibly welcome?
Last May, days after the Senate’s vote to recognize marriage equality, social conservatives redirected their energy to the anti-bullying bill. Calling it an extension of the push for same-sex marriage, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis insisted that the law was an “Orwellian nightmare,” that would “usurp parental rights” and create “re-education camps.”
The House amended the measure, based on the work of a state task force, inserting language protecting students from supposed religious harassment and recognizing their constitutional right to free religious speech.
Further, private schools were exempted yet — much to the irritation of public education advocates, who were publicly thrilled with the “new money” schools were ending up with but privately depressed to still be squeezing nickels — allowed to keep $75 million a year in state aid.
Nonetheless, when Senate GOPers threatened to run out the clock in the waning hours of the session, the bill’s sponsors were forced to table it.
“So much for Republicans’ vows to refashion themselves as a more inclusive and ‘caring’ party in the aftermath of their last election’s shellacking,” the measure’s chief Senate author, Minneapolis’ Scott Dibble, posted to his Facebook page. “How does killing a bullying bill by threatening a 10-hour filibuster in the closing hours of the legislative session square with that?
“I assured Minority Leader David Hann, who delivered the threat to me personally, that we will pass every single word of this bill into law as soon as we return to the second half of this biennial session next February,” Dibble added. “It is unconscionable to force Minnesota students to endure another year without the safety and support in their own schools that is their right.”
Alas, it’s not likely to be so quick. This year the measure faces quiet apprehension from the agencies that represent school districts and their leaders, who have spent the intervening months nursing concerns about enforcing the dramatically beefed up law.
Quietly because after the heated din of last spring, there is concern that opposing the bill may be perceived as indifferent to gay and lesbian students and those whose gender identity would be protected by it.
Reached at the Capitol Monday, both Dibble and his House counterpart, bill sponsor Jim Davnie, also a Minneapolis DFLer, said that they believe that the tightened up language to be introduced Thursday would address “legitimate concerns.”
At issue is enforcement. School administrators want the definition of bullying made more precise, as well as reassurance that they will be able to manage everything from guidance to classroom volunteers to the number of languages in which a district must publish its harassment policies.
Even after the measure is rewritten it will face opposition from some corners of the “education cartel,” Davnie predicted: “The grownups around here recognize we rarely get everything we want.”
And the louder, more loyal opposition? Columnist Katherine Kersten last week authored an opinion piece published in the Star Tribune promising that Minnesota schoolchildren will be exposed to dangerous pro-LGBT curricula. And a threatened religious right billboard campaign has mostly failed to appear.