Senate panel OKs revamped anti-bullying bill, critics not satisfied

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A revised version of a much-critiqued anti-bullying bill passed a key Senate committee on Tuesday, but opponents argue the bill is still too specific about which groups are protected.

Hundreds of supporters and opponents packed the state Capitol Tuesday for the bill's first hearing of this legislative session.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who co-authored the proposed Safe and Supportive Schools Act, presented the edited bill that tightened the definition of bullying to a pattern of “intimidating, threatening, abusive or harming conduct” and cut expensive or onerous mandates, according to the Star Tribune.

Advocates for school administrators praised the latest changes to the bill that address concerns over costly legislation that would be difficult for schools to implement, the Pioneer Press reports.

"This is in very good shape as it comes here today," Roger Aronson of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals' Association told the Pioneer Press. "We think it works well on behalf of kids."

The revamped bill was not to the liking of Republican members of the Senate Education Committee. Opponents are still concerned about the bill's cost and school districts' control over local decisions, the Pioneer Press reports.

Opponents say the bill is also too narrowly focused on specific groups and doesn't broadly protect all students, according to the Associated Press. The bill forbids the bullying of people based on the following: Race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability.

Critics have said they worry that the language in the bill that specifically protects gays threatens religious freedom, WCCO notes. Dibble argues that the bill protects all children, but that it's necessary to list certain groups that are susceptible to bullying.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said the latest amendments may have satisfied school administrators, but there have been no changes to address concerns over how the legislation will affect students, the Pioneer Press says.

"Nothing has been substantially changed in this bill to protect kids," Chamberlain told the Pioneer Press. "This is about the innocence of kids. Nothing has been done in this bill to address that."

There was emotional testimony on both sides of the issue. Kathy Trosvik’s 12-year-old son Tom hanged himself after he was bullied by classmates – she testified against the anti-bullying bill, saying the bill's focus on specific groups is not the right answer, the Star Tribune reports.

The bill was approved after five hours of testimony. The amended legislation was sent to the Senate Finance Committee before it heads to the Senate floor.

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