Senate committee OKs anti-bullying bill

By Elizabeth Dunbar

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — A bill that would expand Minnesota schools’ anti-bullying policies by listing more than a dozen characteristics that could be targets for harassment is on its way to the Senate floor.

The Senate Education Committee approved the bill Tuesday on a split voice vote after hearing two days of testimony from students, parents and those representing school administrators.

Among the list of characteristics in the bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis are sexual orientation, socio-economic status, disability and national origin.


Many examples

Dibble and supporters of the measure have said it’s important to include many examples of bullying so it’s clear to school officials what types of behavior won’t be tolerated. The current law prohibits all bullying in schools, but it only lists race, sex and religion.

The bill gives students and teachers who see bullying an additional tool, said Monica Meyer, public policy director for the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota.

"We really think that students are smart. If they’re being harassed, they can look at the policy and know that they can ask for help," she said.

The argument to provide a comprehensive list in the anti-bullying statute was challenged by two Republican members of the committee, Sens. David Hann of Eden Prairie and Gen Olson of Minnetrista. Olson said schools should focus on teaching students to treat everyone with respect.

"We can never identify all the differences and try to teach people about the differences," she said after the hearing. "We’re missing the point. It’s a person’s attitude about the value or worth of another human being."

Hann said including a long list of characteristics in a bill could mean anything that goes on between students could end up in a lawsuit.

‘Legal minefield?’


"The concern that I have by going down this path is we are potentially creating a legal minefield for our schools," Hann said.

That argument is just "throwing out some scare tactics," said Sen. Ellen Anderson, a St. Paul Democrat. "That’s not what this is about," she said. "It covers a wider range of behaviors because that’s what we want to do to make our kids safe."

Many of those who testified for and against the bill focused on the fact that sexual orientation was a listed characteristic. That included gay students who have been bullied and an organization that advocates marriage as only between a man and a woman.

‘A certain social agenda’

"We believe this will open the door to promoting a certain social agenda," said Minnesota Family Council President Tom Prichard.

But supporters have noted the bill is aimed at the officials who craft a school district’s anti-bullying policy, not its curriculum.

"I don’t think the school boards do a good job, and that’s the problem," Dibble said.

The bill has not yet had a committee hearing in the House.

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