Senate passes 'weak' anti-bullying bill

Bill heading to Gov. Snyder's desk

by Todd Heywood

LANSING -

The Michigan Senate Tuesday morning approved what advocates call a "weak" anti-bullying bill. The Michigan House passed the bill two weeks ago.

The legislation does not include the so-called "license to bully" provision passed by the Senate earlier in the month. That exemption lead to national ridicule for Michigan lawmakers, and Republican leaders promised the exemption would not move in the House.

While the new legislation will require local districts to adopt a policy to address bullying, it requires no requirements for reporting bullying incidents to the state, and is not enumerated. Enumeration is the technical term for listing the groups, which are protected, and Republicans have argued that including such language would exclude some groups.

"We're disappointed by the weak version of the bill passed today. Directed by the biases of a few, our Senate missed another opportunity to do right by our kids," said Emily Dievendorf, policy director for Equality Michigan. "Today's bill will do little to stem the tide of bullying because it doesn't enumerate commonly targeted characteristics. Case studies have found that school employees are unlikely to recognize and report incidents when bias bullying is not placed deliberately on their radar. Both Oregon and Washington passed weak bills like this one and had to go back and revise them years later when data showed the initial bills had failed. This kind of delay is not an acceptable response to Michigan's bullying crisis."

Equality Michigan was not the only group to respond to the passage.

"Over the last year, the Senate Republicans have largely ignored public outcry over their efforts to cut school funding and raise taxes on seniors, and I am hoping that today's action signifies that they have turned a corner in embracing compromise and plan to be more responsive to the people they represent," said Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing). "While this legislation is far from perfect, it at least puts Michigan on the right path toward giving our students the protections from bullying and harassment that they've had to ask of their Government for far too long now."

Sen. John Gleason (D-Flushing) who led a protest at the Capitol in October after Senate Republicans blocked attempts to add anti-bullying legislation to charter school reform legislation, also weighed in.

"This bill as passed today finally honors the memory of Matt Epling and the other Michigan students who took their lives due to bullying and harassment, and hopefully ensures that Michigan students will no longer find themselves in such dire situations."Implementing a statewide anti-bullying policy in Michigan finally puts us on par with the rest of the country and hopefully diffuses the national embarrassment and outrage Senate Republicans evoked with their previous 'anti-bullying legislation' that actually did more harm than good."

Katy Butler and Carson Borbely, two bullied Michigan students who started a petition that called on legislators to pass a strong bill, said they were relieved that the legislature stripped the "license to bully" language, but were disappointed that state lawmakers failed to pass a stronger bill that enumerates the reasons why students are bullied and requires that schools report back on how well they're protecting kids provisions that Butler and Borbely assert are necessary to actually protect Michigan students from bullying.

"As students who have been bullied in the past, we know what we need to be protected," said Butler, a 16-year-old junior at Greenhills High School in Ann Arbor. "Unfortunately, the legislature has chosen to ignore our voices in the debate over a law that directly impacts our lives every day."

Within a few short weeks, over 50,000 people joined Butler's and Borbely's campaign on Change.org, which received coverage from CBS, the Detroit News, Michigan Public Radio, and other major news outlets.

"While we're disappointed that the legislature decided to do what was easy instead of doing what was right, Carson and I couldn't be more proud," said Butler. "All along, this campaign has been about providing a voice for students who suffer every day at school, but haven't had the opportunity to speak out. Our petition helped stop a dangerous bill from becoming law. Next time, we'll help pass a bill that actually protects students."

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