ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota House voted early Wednesday to pass a bill aimed at strengthening the state’s anti-bullying law, sending the measure to Gov. Mark Dayton to sign.
After nearly 12 hours of debate, the House passed the bill on a 69-63 vote that fell mostly along party lines. The Senate passed the bill last week, and Dayton had said he would sign it this week.
It would require school districts to track and investigate cases of bullying and require schools to better train staff and teachers on how to prevent it. Current law requires school districts to have a bullying policy but omits details on what the policy should contain.
“This provides a strong set of tools to create a strong local anti-bullying policy and create safe educational climates in Minnesota,” said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, the bill’s sponsor.
House members who opposed the measure argued that it would do little to reduce bullying, would remove local control from school districts and would be too expensive to implement.
“We’ll have created an expectation in law that children can go to school and be free from bullying, that they can be free from feeling bad, that everything will be perfectly harmonious in school,” Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, said.
Many House members echoed Runbeck’s comments, suggesting that standing up to bullies is a key learning moment in the development of any human being. Republicans also repeatedly expressed concern that the measure would infringe on First Amendment rights.
“This bill deals with behavior, not belief,” Davnie countered.
Others expressed outrage that the bill did not require parents to be notified when a child has been bullied. Instead, the new law would leave that decision up to the discretion of school administrators.
The bill defines bullying as behavior that interrupts another student’s opportunity to learn or participate in a school activity, prohibits false reports of bullying and requires corroboration of bullying accusations.