Two state legislators say a recent rash of teen suicides linked to bullying requires an emergency response, and they want the issue included in a forthcoming special session on flood relief.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced a similar measure in 2009 to toughen anti-bullying policies in public schools, but Gov. Pawlenty vetoed the bill. It would have prohibited harassment based on a list of a dozen characteristics, including sexual orientation.
During a news conference today, Dibble said bullying in schools is now an epidemic. He said the issue is appropriate for the special session.
“This emergency is one of our own creation,” Dibble said. “We can respond. We can change this. We can take those affirmative steps so that every kid who goes to school knows that they are valued, that they’ll be safe, that they’re loved, that they’re going to get an equal shot at a good start in life.”
Republicans blasted the proposal as part of a personal agenda and unrelated to the plight of flood-damaged communities. Senate Minority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said the anti-bullying bill could threaten the passage of the disaster relief.
“If we go outside of the bounds of what we’ve agreed to, then frankly all things are on the table, be it photo ID or any other kind of initiative or agenda any other member might have,” Senjem said.
During the news conference, Dibble told reporters that the governor’s race was not a factor in re-introducing the bill. He said the special session provides an opportunity to respond to a crisis.
But the Minnesota National Organization for Women later sent out a news release supporting the bill and denouncing Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who has said he does not support such legislation.
“Minnesota NOW, as a partner in the Safe Schools for All Coalition, hopes that renewed attention to this public health emergency will finally increase momentum for anti-bullying legislation that could do so much to protect vulnerable adolescents. But that won’t happen if Tom Emmer is elected Governor,” wrote Shannon Drury, Minnesota NOW State President.
DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton also weighed in with his own news release:
“Bullying in schools based on a young person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity has grown to terrible proportions and the consequences of those actions are severe. No students should be driven to take their own lives simply because of who they are. I stand with Senator Al Franken to pass strong, anti-bullying measures here in Minnesota and nationwide. As Governor, I will fight for and sign a tougher Safe Schools bill. The time is now to speak out, lead, and act to protect all Minnesota’s youth.”
Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for Gov. Pawlenty, issued this statement:
“Bullying is a serious issue but there’s no need to duplicate existing Minnesota law which prohibits it. If the legislature wanted to improve the existing law, they could have accepted our invitation to do so last session, but they choose not to. Nevertheless, the special session should be focused only on providing disaster relief to Minnesotans in need. The legislature will reconvene in January – less than 90 days – to address other matters.”