anti-bullying bill

Legislation proposed to criminalize bullying

May 28, 2013
NCWD/youth

Bullying could lead to jail time or a major fine in Michigan under legislation introduced Tuesday.

State Representative Dale Zorn says bullying someone, including cyber-bullying or calling someone a derogatory name, would be a criminal offense on a second occasion.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A couple hundred school counselors…mental health professionals and social workers are meeting today in Lansing.   They’re in town to discuss what can be done to reduce bullying in Michigan’s schools.

Paul Liabenow says people understand that bullying is not just about “mean girls being mean” or “bad boys will grow out of it”.

Liabenow is the executive director of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association.

He says efforts in recent years to address bullying in schools are working.

Riot Youth is an Ann Arbor-based group that supports and advocates for LGBTQ teens. For those who don't know, that's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning.

Four years ago the group surveyed students in Ann Arbor schools about bullying and sexual orientation. Using the results of that survey, and drawing on their own experiences, the teens wrote a play about bullying that they perform in schools across the state.   

Michigan Radio's Christina Shockley spoke with Laura Wernick, an advisor with the group, and Leo Thornton, a 10th grade student and Riot Youth board member.

Thornton, who identifies as transgender, said the group has been a life-saver. "I found Riot Youth and I realized there were not just other transgender people—there's a spectrum of other identities within the queer community, and that we all can come together and just be ourselves."

The Michigan Senate today passed the House version of an anti-bullying bill.

It’s headed to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

The bill as passed did not include the controversial exception in an earlier Senate bill that protected statements that came from moral or religious convictions.

The Michigan Senate received national attention for that bill - some calling it a template for how to get away with bullying. 

Senator Whitmer spoke with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White earlier today about her opposition for the bill approved by the Senate, and about the reaction to the YouTube video of her reacting to the bill.

Here she is telling her colleagues in the Michigan Senate "you may be able to pat yourself on the backs today and say that you did something today, but in actuality you're explicitly outlining how to get away with bullying... This is worse that doing nothing. It's a Republican license to bully."

A proposal to require all Michigan school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.  

The state Legislature gave final approval to a House Republican anti-bullying proposal following a month of heated debate.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he is happy with the final product.

“At this point and time, yeah. It went through both chambers, got a fair amount of public scrutiny and feedback, and I’m proud of the work the House Republicans did,” said Richardville.

Governor Snyder has to be hoping that the State Senate goes along with the changes the State House of Representatives made to the anti-bullying legislation now before the legislature.

Otherwise, the Michigan Senate will continue to be the object of nationwide scorn, and the governor may have to veto the bill. If you haven’t been following this, there has been steady pressure building for years for Lansing to pass an anti-bullying bill.

There have been a rash of stories about kids who were so tormented in school they took their own lives.

A measure that would require all school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies has cleared the state House.

The proposal says there is no reason for kids to be allowed to bully each other. That sets it apart from legislation approved by the Senate last week. That bill exempted statements based on a student's deeply held religious or moral belief. Critics called the provision a license to bully. 

 “School districts across the state know the dangers of bullying and are tracking this issue head-on. And we should too. Our students deserve it," said Republican State Representative Phil Potvin, who sponsored the House bill. "We cannot sit by the sidelines anymore. There is no excuse for bullying.”

But some critics say the bill does not go quite far enough. Democratic state Representative Lisa Brown said schools should also be required to report bullying incidents to the state Department of Education.

"How many children need to be hurt?" she said. "I would hope that we’re looking to do more than just stop or prevent bully-side, but that every children—child has an opportunity to learn in a safe environment.”

 The measure was approved by a wide margin, with only a handful of Republicans voting against it.

Michigan is one of only a handful of states without a specific law making school bullying a crime. The governor wants an anti-bullying law. Various other groups do too.

This is, make no mistake, a serious issue. According to the Senate Fiscal agency, bullying has accounted for at least ten suicides in the last ten years, plus more that were likely unreported.

So yesterday, the state senate passed such a law.

But nobody, absolutely nobody, is celebrating.