A bill that would have required Washington school districts to adopt policies banning harassment and bullying appears dead, after Republican lawmakers voiced concerns that the measure went too far.
One of the reasons the bill drew opposition was Christian conservatives’ reaction to Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, an openly gay man and champion of gay rights causes. Murray’s sponsorship of the bill, along with the backing of gay rights groups, caught the eye of Rick Forcier, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Washington.
“We wondered why so much interest from this part of the community?” said Forcier, who is concerned that the bill could be used to promote homosexuality in schools, although it does not address the topic. “We already have about 37 laws on the book designed to deal with malicious harassment.”
Forcier said he’s advocating for the right of Christian youth to argue religious objections to homosexuality, not to protect hormone-charged teenage boys who fling anti-gay epithets like weapons.
Democrats dismissed Forcier’s objection. “They do not have anything to be afraid of,” said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, whose Senate version of the bill passed easily. “It very clearly sets a high standard for what harassment is.”
But Forcier’s opposition apparently spoke loudly among Republicans in Washington’s evenly divided House, where a restrictive power-sharing agreement gave Education co-Chairwoman Gigi Talcott the power to block McAuliffe’s bill. “Initially, it didn’t have the support of the majority of the members,” said Talcott, R-Lakewood.
Talcott said she personally opposed the bill for a more prosaic reason: she doesn’t want the state piling mandates on overburdened schools. “There’s nothing in the proposal that a school can’t do already,” she said.
The bill’s supporters say policies must be mandatory to drag along school districts that don’t perceive a problem.
Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who headed a task force that delved deeply into the problem of bullying in Washington, said affluent suburban schools often present a peaceful exterior while harboring the worst cultures of bullying. She points to Littleton, Colo., the Denver suburb where two high school outcasts rampaged through the halls of Columbine High School, killing 13 people.
The Columbine massacre prompted the Colorado Legislature to pass an anti-bullying bill this year that goes into effect in August.
Bills in other states have met a variety of fates. Alaska passed House Bill 99, requiring school districts to develop ways to resolve student conflicts. New Hampshire passed a law last year required anti-bullying policies by Jan. 1, 2001. Oregon’s House Bill 3403, requiring schools to adopt anti-bullying policies, passed the House and could win final passage. West Virginia passed House Bill 3023, requiring county school boards to establish policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation, or bullying.
Bills in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York are pending.