Anti-bullying bill passes Minnesota House
Doug Belden, Pioneer Press, May 6, 2013 – The state would set up a “school climate center” and individual districts would face additional reporting, training and other requirements to reduce school bullying under a bill passed by the Minnesota House on Monday, May 6.
The bill passed 72-57, with all the support from Democratic-Farmer-Laborers and all the opposition from Republicans. The companion bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate E-12 finance subcommittee Tuesday.
Bill sponsor Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said the measure would take Minnesota from having one of the weakest anti-bullying laws in the country to “instead being a leader in building safe and supportive school climates for all students.”
Everyone says they’re against bullying, Davnie said, but “good intentions, rhetoric against bullying, everybody lamenting it isn’t enough.”
Republicans argued the bill was too expensive and overly directive.
“This bill is not the answer to the problem,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover. She called it “overreach by the ‘Democrat Party’ to control the speech of our kids.”
Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, called the bill “a one-size-fits-all unfunded mandate” that would sacrifice local control and expand the power of the state Education Department. “This is something we don’t need to be doing,” she said. “I think things are under control.”
The bill, based on recommendations from a task force, seeks to beef up what advocates say is an insufficient current law. At 37 words, Minnesota’s anti-bullying law is one of the shortest in the nation. It simply requires school districts to enact a written policy prohibiting intimidation and bullying.
The new legislation would require school districts to work with students and parents on policies to prevent bullying, investigate all formal complaints of bullying and keep detailed records of bullying to help improve school safety. The law requires ongoing professional development to train teachers in preventing bullying.
The bill’s supporters include educators, pediatricians, gay-rights activists and advocates for the disabled.
Ann Gettis, whose son Jeremiah killed himself at age 21 after years of bullying in school, said after the vote that she believes the law would give schools the tools they need to address and prevent bullying. “If something like this had been in effect when my son was in school, I think that he would still be here,” she said.
Opponents have questioned the need or efficacy of putting such a law in place, arguing it would be an added layer of bureaucracy that would likely do little to combat bullying. Some have raised concerns that the legislation could impose values and beliefs, particularly on homosexuality and family structure, with which some parents may not agree.
The bill sets aside $1 million for a school climate center run by the state Education Department to help schools develop anti-bullying policies.
But it would cost local districts roughly $20 million per year, according to an analysis by Minnesota Management and Budget.
“We’re putting our school districts in a very tough spot here by saying ‘You’ve got to do this, but yet we’re not going to fund it,’ ” Rep. Kelby Woodard of Belle Plaine, the lead Republican on the House education finance committee, said after the vote.
Davnie said the MMB analysis counts things many districts are already doing as new costs, and he estimates that local impact at closer to $3 million per year.
Republicans offered several unsuccessful amendments over several hours of debate Monday that would have softened the requirements or penalties in the bill.
Republicans Woodard and Mary Liz Holberg of Lakeville succeeded in adding clarifying language requiring that parents be notified if their child is involved in a bullying incident, unless there is a good reason not to do so.
A final proposed amendment, from Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, would have deleted the Davnie bill and simply allowed districts to satisfy the policy requirement by implementing the model anti-bullying policy from the Minnesota School Boards Association. That amendment failed.