Surrounded by a crowd of supporters, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a sweeping new anti-bullying measure into law Wednesday afternoon on the steps of the State Capitol.
The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act passed the Minnesota House early Wednesday; it was approved by the Senate last week.
"Minnesota's schools should be safe and supportive places for everyone," Dayton said. "This anti-bullying legislation will make it very clear that bullying is not to be allowed in our schools."
The House gave final approval to the bill Tuesday night after a long debate that lasted until past midnight. Lawmakers ultimately approved the measure 69-63, mostly along party lines, with mostly Republican lawmakers opposed (yays and nays listed here). The Senate approved it Thursday on a 36-31 vote.
The Safe and Supportive Schools Act (read bill text here) is aimed at strengthening the state's current 37-word anti-bullying law, which has commonly been called one of the weakest in the nation. The current law merely directs districts to have some sort of anti-bullying policy.
The new measure requires districts to track and investigate cases of bullying, and also requires schools to offer training to staff in how to prevent bullying.
The legislation also further defines bullying. It notes, in part, that bullying causes physical harm or fear of physical harm and "constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress."
"This provides a strong set of tools to create a strong local anti-bullying policy and create safe educational climates in Minnesota," bill sponsor Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said, the Associated Press reported.
House Republicans argued during the nearly 12 hours of debate that the bill would force unnecessary changes on local school districts, and that it could have a chilling effect on students' free speech.
A major point of contention was a section that specifically says students cannot be bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Critics said that creates a special protection, which bill supporters said was necessary.
Rep. Mary Franson, R–Alexandria, argued that the bill was an attack on the Bible and conservative Christians, WCCO reported.
Several GOP lawmakers said the new law would force districts to teach young students about sexuality, which Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said could expose students to "filthy, perverted information," the Pioneer Press reported.
Other Republicans said the bill was about DFLers carrying out the agenda of OutFront Minnesota, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian rights, although 100 groups support the legislation, the newspaper noted. "This bill is more about a social agenda than preventing bullying," Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, said.
Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, referenced Hitler and Orwell in his argument against the measure (video from The UpTake):