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Anti-bullying bill clears Senate committee, heads to floor for expected amendments

Anti-bullying bill clears Senate committee, heads to floor for expected amendments

Mitch Coffman
March 8, 2012
Mitch Coffman
March 8, 2012

After more than 1.5 hours of testimony, Senate Bill 1358, which would amend the existing anti-bullying law, passed through the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee and was sent to the amending order on the Senate floor where changes to the bill are expected.

The bill passed on a roll call vote, 5-4.

The legislation would require more training for educators and would mandate that they intervene if they witness bullying and harassment of a student.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, chose Kim Kane, the former director of the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho, to present her bill. LeFavour is a member of the committee.

Kane said she believes the legislation is critical to help prevent youth suicides, saying suicide is the second-leading cause of death among youth in Idaho. She said one out of 14 youth has attempted suicide in Idaho. “Research shows that bullying is unquestionably a major contributing factor to suicide risk, and that there is a clear path from bullying to depression, and other psychiatric disorders, to suicide ideation (forming the idea of committing suicide) and suicidal behaviors.”

While Kane’s testimony was riveting, not everyone is on board with the legislation.

Jessica Harrison from the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) said that one of the concerns the association has with the legislation is the fiscal note, which says there should be no impact on the general fund. “ISBA strongly believes that increased costs will occur at the school district and charter school level associated with the provision of annual professional development, program costs, administrative costs, and increased costs associated with enforcement, student discipline and legal costs. Our school districts are at a very fixed budget and this bill will, at a minimum, divert staff time and resources in the form of professional development, website posting, additional materials to be sent home with students and increased reporting.”

Monica Hopkins, representing the ACLU of Idaho, said that all students deserve to be safe and that current anti-bullying laws in Idaho are inadequate. However, she said her organization does not support the legislation as it is currently written. She said it “may threaten constitutionally protected students’ speech and impose unconstitutional restrictions on students outside of school.”

Hopkins said the current language of the bill is much too broad, but the ACLU would support it if language within the bill still allowed students their First Amendment rights. Hopkins also said that the bill includes punishment for cyber bullying, which she says occurs totally out of school.

Parents and former teachers presented some emotional testimony when talking about the effects of bullying.

Jennie Griffin, a mother whose son, Todd, committed suicide nine years ago, fought back tears as her voice quivered throughout her testimony on the adverse effects of bullying and how it led to her son’s death.

Griffin said, “There’s not just one reason that Todd took his life. But I can tell you that bullying played a part in Todd’s depression. I know that Todd was not bullied all of the time, but he was bullied. When someone is facing overwhelming grief, hopelessness, bullying is the last thing they should have to endure. He was bullied with a teacher standing right there who did nothing. Where was the protection from the school? Some may think that this (bullying) is a passage of right; that kids will be kids. I think differently. If there are [current] policies in place, they are not working. Bullying is wrong, and it has no place in our society.”

Throughout testimony, LeFavour, who has announced that she will not seek re-election, several times panned arguments against the bill, which led to some “advice” from a fellow committee member.

Before the bill was voted on, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, had some strong words for LeFavour about the bill and her behavior, telling the committee, “I’ve been in the Senate for 14 years. I have never had to quarrel with a committee member point-by-point on a bill like I’ve had to today. And I think that Sen. LeFavour would do herself a great deal of good service by just listening because, frankly, you’ve got friends on this issue that want to do some good.”

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