For the record, I was 5 feet 1 inch tall in ninth grade and was the victim of bullying; there were days I did not want to go to school. I hate bullying. Frankly, I don’t know any legislator who isn’t committed to seeing an effective solution to this problem in our schools.
The Christian Civic League is also is committed to solving the problem of bullying by assisting anyone in crafting legislation regarding this issue. It is my prayer that we will cut through the caustic, accusatory rhetoric and offer a bill in the near future that will make our public schools a safe place for all Maine students.
Many people have asked why in the world the House of Representatives sent an anti-bullying bill back to committee on the last day of the legislative session. These inquisitors included several media outlets and Democratic leadership who questioned the courage, compassion and integrity of anyone who would oppose this proposed anti-bullying bill that Minority Whip Terry Hayes called “a no-brainer.”
So what happened? Earlier this year, I received a call from Bangor Daily News reporter Meg Haskell asking for comment regarding anti-bullying legislation. She had heard that the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network was targeting Maine to implement safe schools through anti-bullying legislation. I chose not to respond until I had the chance to do some research. Within a short time, I responded saying that the Christian Civic League is emphatically opposed to bullying or the marginalization of any Maine students, but that we may have issues with specific legislation.
Shortly after that, several bills surfaced, including LD 1237 written by attorney Mary Bonauto from GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders).
I sent LD1237 to our legal analysts. They had major concerns regarding the bill’s ambiguity in its definitions, its enforceability due to creating jurisdiction beyond school grounds and functions, and the lack of First Amendment protections.
I shared these concerns with the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee during public hearings for LD 1237. Also speaking against the bill was Sandra MacArthur of the Maine School Management Association, which represents Maine school boards and superintendents. In addition, the Maine Principal’s Association reiterated the redundancy of this bill due to existing laws. Despite our testimonies, the committee members sent the bill with an overwhelming “ought to pass” recommendation to the House.
The bill eventually received unanimous approval passing “under the gavel” in the House and then was approved in the Senate with a 28-6 vote sending it to the Appropriations Committee for financial consideration. Due to costs associated with training and enforcement, a “mandate” was attached to the bill requiring a two-thirds vote in the House because it was an unfunded mandate.
This is where the bill was jeopardized. After ensuring that our legal analysis was still current and valid, we affirmed that the School Management Association still objected to the bill. The League resent an action alert to our e-mail subscribers encouraging them to let legislators know their concerns; I also sent the alert to the Republican Senate and House leaders.
LD 1237 came to the floor of the house and was facing certain defeat when it was pulled by Minority Leader Emily Cain hoping for passage the next day. When it became clear this bill no longer had necessary support, it was sent back to committee. The bill’s supporters were shocked that legislation that had initially enjoyed such incredible support had been thwarted.
So how did this happen? In my opinion, legislators found it very difficult to objectively and carefully look at the weaknesses of this bill due to the justifiable concern we all share regarding the emotional and legitimate problem of bullying in our schools. The subsequent reaction against anyone who dared point out the problems with this particular bill is evidence of the pressure exerted on critical voices to be silenced and to just go with the populace flow.
While I empathize with fellow citizens who are frustrated with bullying and may wonder why someone might vote “this way,” I am very disappointed with the rhetoric from the media and Democratic leadership portraying anyone who opposed this bill as cowardly and uncaring toward the victims of bullying.
Carroll Conley, Jr., is executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine.