The Safe Schools for All bill passed the Minnesota House on Monday and is heading to the desk of Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The bill would add 14 characteristics to existing anti-bullying policies and directs schools to beef up their anti-bullying programs. The bill passed by a vote of 95 to 39. It’s unclear whether Gov. Pawlenty will sign or veto the bill, but if the bill can retain the support of eight members in the House, a veto would likely be over-ridden.
The bill passed but not without intense debate. Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, carried the bill this session. “The politics are challenging; the stories from students and families have often been hard to hear,” he said. “What we know is that if you want an effective policy it needs to be clear, and that’s what SF971 will do.”
The main concern from some Republican legislators is that the bill spells out specific groups such as gay and lesbian students, students with disabilities and children from different socioeconomic strata.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, offered an amendment to strike those categories from the bill. “One group does not rise above another,” he said. The amendment failed on a voice vote.
Davnie argued for the importance of the categories. “[Students] need and deserve to see themselves reflected in school policies. The child hears, ‘if somebody is bothering me, the adults in the school will help me,’” he said.
Rep. Rob Eastlund, R-Isanti, said, “there’s a politically motivated effort because passing legislation feels good. We don’t need to list out a long list of special interest groups.”
Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, gave a passionate speech about being bullied in school because of his disability.
“People that get bullied are often the people who look or act different. I remember being on the playground and continually being teased or picked on because of how I looked,” said Ward. “All children deserve to be treated fairly and equitably and with respect. When you talk about special groups being named… Anything we can do to move in that direction is progress.”
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