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Bullying Bill bullies its way through the legislature

Last year, the DFL House and Senate tried pushing a mammoth “Bullying Bill” through both bodies, with little consideration for common sense and local control amendments being offered by Republican legislators, leaving the matter to be resolved in the 2014 session. On Thursday, April 3 the Bullying Bill came to the Senate floor and, after being only slightly amended, passed with only democrat votes.

The only thing bipartisan about this bill was the opposition to it, with rural Democrats joining all Republicans in their opposition to HF 826. I made my vote with local control, local schools and Minnesota students in mind. The Bullying Bill will place undue burden on local school districts with the addition of a million dollar taxpayer-funded School Climate Council and a School Climate Center within the Minnesota Department of Education that will be charged with implementing and enforcing the new law. This will remove control from local schools and place it in the hands of a new state-level bureaucracy.

The creation of a School Safety Technical Assistance Council that schools will be required to report to will cause school staff to spend more time on paperwork and less time on attending to students and their needs. The School Safety Technical Assistance Council will require schools to disregard situational differences and follow a broad, state wide policy. Control over these matters should be left to local schools, not a state bureaucracy.

This bill will also create additional rules that make it harder for elected school boards to craft anti-bullying and student safety policies that fit their district. It will add a new $20 million statewide cost per year to local school districts, which will be funded by property taxes, putting even more financial burden on our local schools. Furthermore, it will create a list of demographic groups who will receive special protection under the law, raising concerns that students who don’t fall under one of these categories will not be equally protected. Senators also raised concerns about whether parents would be notified if their child is the victim of bullying or is accused of bullying, stressing that parents should be kept at the center of any conversation about their kids.

The minority party offered an alternative, local approach to anti-bullying that the Senate majority ultimately refused to accept. We wanted to ensure parents would be notified of such bullying. Concerns were also raised that this bill will not protect religious liberty. Some religious views may not be tolerated and now construed as “bullying,” while other religious views subjectively may not. The language is also vague, such as “objectively obscene,” or the definition of “bullying;” this was another major concern with this Minneapolis-authored legislation.

Finally, another problem with HF 826 is that the requirement to document incidents of bullying will put sensitive and personal information about involved students on their personal record; these reports have the possibility of sticking with these students forever.

Ironically, a bill that is supposedly going to protect students may in fact be a burden to them.