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LETTER: GOP senator ‘gets it’ on bullying, perhaps too late

EAST GRAND FORKS — On Dec. 8, the Herald’s Sunday “threesixty” section focused on the then-upcoming anti-bullying legislation in Minnesota. In a column on the section front, I took the position that a bill to address bullying was needed.

Also on the section front, Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes and the Senate’s assistant minority leader, wrote a column expressing an opposing view. Chamberlain suggested that schools would or should better address the situation on their own, and that no such law was needed.

Today, as noted on the cover of this past Sunday’s “threesixty” section, Chamberlain now supports a bill that’s close to a verbatim copy of North Dakota’s anti-bullying law (March 23, Page F1).

At the same time, Chamberlain was lamenting the DFL-backed proposal that’s currently moving through committee.

I am glad Chamberlain now sees the need, as in that while some schools do a fine job with the issue of bullying, most do not. At Options Center for Independent Living, we have documentation that shows how children with disabilities often are the targets of bullying.

The irony is that in 2011, Minnesota State Sen. Jim Abeler, a Republican, offered the North Dakota anti-bullying bill — verbatim — while his party was in control of both chambers.

Republican leadership would not even allow the bill to be brought forth for a hearing, even with the chair of the Education Policy committee being a former teacher.

Now, with the DFL in control, that party has crafted a bill which, in the view of many, creates bureaucracy and submits to various special interest groups.

So, if Chamberlain now is touting the North Dakota bill as an alternative to the DFL-supported bill, he should think back to the situation two years ago, when a member of his own party offered that very same bill but got little party-leadership support.

I agree with the senator in that DFL-supported bill, HF 826, is not perfect and would create — unlike the North Dakota bill, which passed with bipartisan support — unneeded bureaucracy and expense.

But the bill probably will pass along party lines, and it will be much better than the current, almost non-existent Minnesota law.

And to repeat, Chamberlain and his Republican colleagues had the chance to enact the North Dakota version but blew that chance.

Sadly, neither party in Minnesota is acting in the best interests of children. Instead, both are beholden to their respective ideologies.

Minnesota should return to an era of statesmanship, a time when the legislative body was of a nonpartisan designation.

John Johnson

Johnson is an advocate/trainer for Options Center for Independent Living in East Grand Forks.