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Dayton signs anti-bullying bill

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton put pen on paper 15 hours after final legislative approval of an anti-bullying bill, enacting a new law requiring schools to have bullying prevention policies and providing guidance about how they would be written.

Dayton signed the bill late Wednesday afternoon in front of many legislators and dozens of the bill’s other supporters.

“Nobody in this state or this nation should have to feel bad about who they are,” Dayton said.

The House passed the bill 69-63 early Wednesday, following nearly 12 hours of debate. Senators passed it earlier.

“It makes it much more clear what bullying is and what bullying is not,” said Jim Hess, superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools.

Hess is pleased with the changes applied to the bill as it progressed through the Legislature.

“It is more user-friendly. It makes it easier to administer,” Hess said. “There were some things we had some serious concerns about and the legislators I think were wise in listening to our concerns and made some amendments.”

If a school district does not write its own bullying policy, the bill requires the state to impose its own policy on the district.

Hess said Bemidji Area Schools has in place an exceptionally strong Code of Conduct that defines expected and accepted behaviors for all students and the consequences that come when they are not followed. That Code of Conduct is reviewed annually by a district committee that makes recommendations to the Bemidji school board every summer. The committee is already meeting to review the existing code.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jim Davnie, D-Minneapolis, echoed Hess’ statement about allowing districts to write their own anti-bullying policies.

“Frankly, we’d rather that school districts engage their community and create new policy to limit bullying that we know is happening rather than use the state model policy that will be created with the passage of this bill,” Davnie said, adding that the new law “sets a high standard for defining bullying.”

But Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said the new law creates a “one-size-fits-all mandate.”

“I trust the schools in our community to address bullying more effectively than politicians and bureaucrats in St. Paul,” Franson said. “Instead of empowering local school districts, this bill infringes on the rights of students, parents and locally elected school boards.”

Pioneer staff writer Bethany Wesley contributed to this report.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.