Dayton signs anti-bullying bill
ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton put pen on paper 15 hours after final legislative approval of an anti-bullying bill, enacting a new law requiring schools to have bullying prevention policies and providing guidance about how they would be written.
Dayton signed the bill late Wednesday afternoon in front of many legislators and dozens of the bill's other supporters.
"Nobody in this state or this nation should have to feel bad about who they are," Dayton said.
The House passed the bill 69-63 early Wednesday, following nearly 12 hours of debate. Senators passed it earlier.
Bill sponsor Rep. Jim Davnie, D-Minneapolis, said the measure will let school districts write their own anti-bullying policies.
“Frankly, we’d rather that school districts engage their community and create new policy to limit bullying that we know is happening rather than use the state model policy that will be created with the passage of this bill," Davnie said, adding that the new law "sets a high standard for defining bullying."
But Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said the new law creates a "one-size-fits-all mandate."
“I trust the schools in our community to address bullying more effectively than politicians and bureaucrats in St. Paul," Franson said. "Instead of empowering local school districts, this bill infringes on the rights of students, parents and locally elected school boards."
Democrats had little to say about the bill, but Republicans laid out their opposition.
Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, said Democrats pushing the bill were enacting the “big brother” concept featured in the book “1984.”
“If this isn’t a mirror image of ‘1984,’ I don’t know what is,” Newberger said. “The only problem is (author) George Orwell is off by 30 years.
“If it has a battery, Democrats want access into your private life,” he said, because the bill would allow schools to monitor electronic messages and take action, even if the activity occurs away from school.
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said the bill is “fascist” and is “simply another attack on the Bible and on Christians.”
Davnie responded that the bill would help youths deal with “an increasingly diverse society.”
“The bill deals with behavior, not belief,” he added.
The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act is a top priority for Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislators and their supporters.
The bill is tied to a proposal that passed a year ago to legalize gay marriages. The measure, supported by many of the same people who backed the marriage proposal, specifies that students cannot be bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity and several other reasons.
Opponents argue that gives special protection to certain students, but supporters say specificity is necessary to ensure that all students are protected.
Existing state law devotes 37 words to bullying, which supporters of the bill say makes it the country’s weakest anti-bullying law. With so little state law, school districts have a variety of policies that supporters say should be more standardized.
Longtime teacher Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said that 93 percent of schools have adopted a six-page state school board association anti-bullying policy.
Republicans said local districts know their needs best and should be given freedom to make their own policies. Opponents also say the bill would create an unfunded mandate.
“Those of you who live in rural Minnesota know that this is one of the most hot-button issues this legislative session,” Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said, because voters are upset that the state is taking over writing policies that local officials should write.
There is not a bullying problem in rural areas, said Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore.
“This is really a rift between rural and metro,” he said. “We are not hearing it out there.”
Davnie, however, said schools still will administer bullying policies. He said they can deal only with activities related to school.
Herald staff writer Jennifer Johnson contributed to this report.