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Guest Editorial - Politics trumps efforts to protect our children

On a party line vote, with most Republicans voting no, an amendment to the K-12 education budget bill that would strengthen anti-bullying laws was defeated in the Minnesota State Senate last week.

The amendment would require school districts to train staff to specifically prevent bullies from targeting their peers on the basis of disabilities, sexual orientation, national origin and poverty level. Current law only covers race, gender and religion.

Senator Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, proffered the amendment in the Minnesota State Senate and Representative Jim Davnie, also DFL-Minneapolis, sponsored a similar amendment in the State House.

Dibble said evidence shows that bullying is worse for youngsters when policies are not spelled out.

Senator Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, was one of the no votes. His argument was that the amendment would repeal current anti-bullying laws, which he believes are adequate.

The amendment would indeed repeal existing laws, but would replace them with stronger measures. Opponents object to putting more requirements on school districts.

Being the victim of bullies is not a normal part of growing up, something that toughens kids and builds character. Stories of children committing suicide after being bullied make news, but plenty of others - especially those who are "different," shy or lacking self-esteem and confidence - live miserable lives. One study cited 42 percent of children being bullied online and 35 percent threatened. These young people survive, but suffer increased risk of depression, substance abuse and academic and social failure.

The stronger anti-bullying legislation would not solve everyone's troubles, but mandating training for school staff would go a long way toward raising awareness of the plight of vulnerable children. The training would also enhance the tools teachers and administrators should have in dealing with bullying.

Strengthening the anti-bullying laws would also send a message to children and parents of victims, as well as those potentially at risk of bullying, that Minnesota lawmakers are serious about protecting children.

Advocates of the anti-bullying measure vow to continue to push for revamping the state's laws.

The fact that the measure was defeated along party lines looks familiar. Again, the majority party took the opportunity to flex its political muscle to defeat a policy for common-sense, positive change.

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This editorial appeared in the Bemidji Pioneer on April 8. The Pioneer and the Echo Press are Forum Communications newspapers.