Michigan Senate Republicans pass “License-to-Bully Bill”, a “Blueprint for bullying”

In one of the sickest and most vile acts of irony yet seen in Michigan under the current Republican regime, Michigan Republicans yesterday passed a bill that lays out specific pathways for legalized bullying in our schools. It is effectively a “Blueprint for Bullying”. The bill passed 26-11 along party lines. It now goes to the House of Representatives.

Legislation that would require Michigan’s public schools to adopt anti-bullying policies has been approved in the Republican-led Senate, but some Democrats say the measure wouldn’t do anything to protect students.

The bill was approved today by a 26-11 vote along party lines. It advances to the Republican-led House.

Some Democrats want a more detailed measure that specifically outlines reasons students can’t be bullied such as race, weight and sexual orientation. Democrats said a clause in the Senate-approved bill would provide students with a license to bully based on religious beliefs.

The bill, called “Matt’s Safe Schools Law” is named after Matt Epling. Here is his story, as told by his parents on the website MattEpling.com:

On Matt’s last day of Eighth grade he was assaulted by upperclassmen as part of a high school “Welcome to High School” Hazing. Although this was an Assault and Battery, little was done at the time to those who perpetrated the crime.

Roughly forty days later, the night before we were to go to the police to begin formal charges, Matt ended his life. Perhaps because of what happened and the corresponding threats he received, he was afraid of retaliation, but we will never know. There are still many unanswered questions such as why eyewitnesses to the assault, or fellow employees at Matt’s job were never interviewed. We felt more time was spent to separate the two incidents than to find out how connected they really were. Since then we have met other families across America who have faced the similar loss of a child, and we know we are not alone.

We lost our only son and the world lost a bright start that faded far too soon. We have dedicated ourselves to making sure that “No child goes through what Matt did and no family goes through what we have.”

This is personally somewhat painful for me because both of my kids went to MacDonald Middle School in East Lansing, Michigan where Matt went. This isn’t a rural school, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a school in a university town — diverse in all ways — the very definition of a cosmopolitan school system. And yet, this young boy was so threatened by bullies there that he killed himself.

However, this bill, if it were a law when Matt killed himself, would have done nothing to save him.

Here is Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, speaking eloquently on the bill’s passage yesterday:

You know, we’ve had, I’ve personally had some pretty hard days in the Senate this term. Whether it was what happened to the school aid fund or raising pension taxes or the continued assault on the middle class. But I think this was my lowest point personally because here today, you claim to be protecting kids and you’re actually putting them in more danger. There are at least ten Michigan children in the past decade whose deaths are directly attributable to bullying. I have their names and their ages here but I can’t read them. I think they’ve been too victimized as it is.

Had this bill you’ve passed here today been law and in effect while they were alive, how many of their deaths would have been prevented? ZERO.

You may be able to pat yourselves on the back today and say that you did something. But, in actuality, you’re explicitly outlining how to get away with bullying. Your exceptions have swallowed the rule. As passed today, bullying kids is okay if a student, parent our school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it. But bullying is not okay. We should be passing public policy that protects kids, ALL kids, from bullies — ALL bullies. But, instead, you’ve set us back farther, creating a blueprint for bullying.

So, this might solve a political problem that the Republicans have. But be clear: you are papering over the problem that is a reality faced by hundreds of kids in Michigan schools every day. In fact, not only does the NOT protect kids who are bullied, it further endangers them by legitimizing excuses for tormenting a student.

The saddest and sickest irony of this whole thing is that it’s called “Matt’s Safe School Law”. After the way you’ve gutted it, it wouldn’t have done a damn thing to save Matt. This worse than doing nothing. It’s a Republican license to bully.

I ask that my comments be recorded in the journal as my no vote explanation.

Matt’s father, Kevin Epling, said that he is “ashamed” to have this bill named after his son.

“I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying when in fact it is a ‘bullying is OK in Michigan law,’” Kevin Eppling, Matt’s father, whose letter was read by Sen. Glenn Anderson during Wednesday’s session.

Michigan Senate Democrats, all of whom voted against the bill, issued this press release:

LANSING- Senate Democrats condemned Republicans for gutting a supposed “anti-bullying” bill that passed out of committee with bi-partisan support and turning it into legislation that gives students a license to bully. Under the Republican substitute to SB 137, a bully could continue to harass a student for any perceived bias and simply cite a “moral conviction” as a basis for doing so.

“The language in this legislation is disrespectful to the memory of the children who have committed suicide in this state due to bullying. Republicans clearly are not taking the bullying epidemic seriously,” said Senator John J. Gleason (D-Flushing). “The bill that was presented to us today offers no protections to our students and perpetuates a hostile environment in our schools.”

The Democrats cited obvious instances where bullies would be allowed to harass students based on perceived sexual characteristics without repercussion under this legislation, or allow a student to bully another based on different religious beliefs.

“To the families of the ten reported suicides that were directly linked to bullying and the countless others that have gone unreported, this bill adds insult to injury,” said Senator Glenn S. Anderson (D-Westland). “I have been working for years to pass legislation to provide a safe school environment for all of our students. This bill goes in the exact opposite direction and in fact provides a license to bully.”

Democrats attempted to move a more comprehensive bill that would prohibit bullying for any reason, however, this attempt to protect students failed to gain the Republican support needed to bring the all-inclusive Democratic bill up for a vote. Several Democratic amendments to improve the legislation were also defeated by the Republican majority.

It has been extremely painful to watch Republicans dismantle most of the progress made in this state over the past decade. It’s been painful to watch them vilify our public employees, demonize our teachers and eviscerate collective bargaining rights of our unionized workers. But this, this act of pure and unadulterated contempt for bullied children and victimized students, is the most egregious thing they have done so far. To call it “shameful” would be a complete understatement.

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