How a weak anti-bullying bill became law

This week, the U.S. Department of Education declared what most everybody knows: Minnesota’s anti-bullying law is among the weakest in the nation.

MPR’s Tom Weber reported yesterday:

The report finds Minnesota has just two of those components in place — the lowest number in the nation, except for the four states without any law at the time of the report’s writing.

The federal report notes Minnesota is one of just three states to prohibit bullying without defining it. Wisconsin is another. Researchers note a statewide definition is crucial, given the fact that bullying means different things to different people.

While politicians have been lining up in recent years to call for stronger anti-bullying legislation, few of them did anything about it back when it was passed in 2007, even though just about everybody told the lawmakers the law was junk.

In 2007, though, kids weren’t getting the attention they’re getting now when they kill themselves after being bullied. Few in the media paid any attention to the anti-bullying legislation being shepherded by then Sen. Mee Moua.

At the time, I was running the Minnesota Fantasy Legislature, a “game” that was created specifically so that legislation that was being ignored got some attention. The anti-bullying legislation was one such bill.

On the day the Senate passed the bill, I wrote this:

This morning, the Senate passed SF646, a piece of legislation that requires school districts to formulate a policy on bullying. For the record, I agree with the legislation. I’ve seen, firsthand, what bullying can do to kids. I’m aware that the incidents of school shootings almost always have their roots in bullying. So put me down as a “yes” vote.

But that’s not the part of the bill that caught my attention. It was this:

The policy shall address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms involving Internet use.

Come again?

I watched the Senate Education Committee testimony on this a week or so ago and while there was some rumblings from the minority party about such things as how a school committee can possibly police the off-school-premises and off-school-hours activities of students, squirreled away in their rooms at home… banging away on the Internet, for the most part the response was “we’ll let the school boards figure that out.”

It was a bad piece of legislation passed by legislators behaving badly by not providing any guidance or definition, even when they were told by people closer to the problem that it was bad legislation that did nothing but allow lawmakers to say they “took action” on bullying.

On the day the Minnesota Senate passed the bill, there was no debate. That day, it spent a considerable amount of time whether to rename a stretch of highway in Duluth after Walter Mondale.

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