Sen.: Anti-bullying bill goes ‘too far’

MARSHALL – A December rally that included members of the state’s largest teachers union should serve as a good indicator that a large number of people in Minnesota will be paying close attention to how the anti-bullying bill shakes out this session.

The bill cleared the House in 2013 before stalling in the Senate, as it battled other issues like the tax bill for attention. The Senate ran into time constraints last session, not wanting to pass a tax bill without devoting an appropriate amount of time vetting it. So some bills, like the anti-bullying bill, were put on the back-burner until this year.

Supporters of the bill say the state’s current 37-word statute on bullying doesn’t do enough to slow down – or deter – the epidemic in Minnesota schools.

Opponents say the bill is unnecessarily broad and too expensive. The Minnesota Management and Budget estimated last session that it would cost schools statewide up to $19.5 million a year to implement the new anti-bullying policies.

Still others have argued the legislation could label students as bullies for expressing religious or political beliefs.

District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms, a Republican from Redwood Falls, thinks the proposed anti-bullying bill that will be introduced this session goes too far and is too reactionary. He says while he doesn’t like to see any child bullied in school, a large, blanket bill isn’t the answer to solving the problem.

“I think this bill goes way too far,” he said. “We have to do something that makes sense for all the schools. Nobody wants their children bullied; I certainly don’t want to see children bullied, but we need a common-sense approach to it.”

The anti-bullying bill is a result of recommendations from the 2012 Governor’s Task Force on the prevention of bullying.

The main conclusion of the 54-page report was that current anti-bullying law was too weak to safeguard students. The 2014 Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act would require schools to draw up detailed anti-bullying policies and set up protections for students who face harassment.

Dahms thinks it’s wrong to put too much stock in the number of words that are used in bullying statutes.

“I think it’s unfair if we value a bill because of the number of words in it,” he said. “We hear it all the time – people saying this bill can’t be any good because there are not enough words in it. We do have an anti-bullying bill in this state; every school has to have it, and this bill, unfortunately, is going to take a lot of time away from administrators, take time away from the classroom for teachers who would have to go through a lot of training.”

The 2014 session convenes Tuesday.