AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers on the Education Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a bill that would strengthen Maine’s anti-bullying efforts.
LD 1237 still needs House and Senate approval. If passed, the bill would provide educators and administrators with a clear definition of bullying, an explicit prohibition on bullying behavior, a range of alternative discipline strategies for schools, prevention policies and training for teachers.
The bill took a circuitous route to passage.
It was held over from the first session last spring when some groups, including the Maine Family Policy Council, formerly the Maine Christian Civic League, and another group called the Alliance Defense Fund, objected at the last minute.
The Christian Civic League urged lawmakers to vote against the bill because it “offers no guarantees of First Amendment Rights for those who may express opposing views or opinions,” according to a message on the group’s website.
The Alliance Defense Fund is a national group headed by Alan Sears, author of a book titled “The Homosexual Agenda,” that has opposed same-sex marriage and equal rights for gays and lesbians.
What was interesting about the last-minute objections and the groups behind those objections is that the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Terry Morrison, D-South Portland, is openly gay.
Morrison said it was unfortunate that his bill was characterized as a “gay bill” by some last session, but he said he was happy it passed unanimously on Tuesday.
“This was never about me; it was about kids who go to school frightened,” he said. “That message got a little distorted last year.”
The bill was amended to include a prohibition on cyberbullying as well, although another carryover bill seeks to address the criminal penalties connected to cyberbulling. That bill has not been voted out of committee.
Testimony on LD 1237 was pointed during last year’s public hearing.
“Watching my friends be bullied because of who they are is simply unbearable,” said MaKayla Reed, an Ellsworth High School senior. “LD 1237 will ensure that all students will be safe in their schools, and with the epidemic of bullying on the rise, that is a breath of fresh air.”
A number of advocacy groups praised the Education Committee’s vote on Tuesday.
“This will make a real and positive difference in the lives of all of our students. While many schools in Maine are doing good work, this bill would ensure that all students are protected no matter what community they live in,” said Mary Bonauto, an attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.
The state teachers’ union, the Maine Education Association, supported the bill as well.
“Teachers know firsthand that students can’t learn if they’re scared to be in school,” MEA President Chris Galgay said. “This bill will help make sure that all kids feel safe in their classrooms and can focus on learning.”