Students across Minnesota suffer bullying in school, a leading cause of suicide, say backers of a bill requiring schools to write new anti-bullying policies.
The Senate education committee Tuesday approved the measure on a split voice vote telling schools to write policies prohibiting "harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence" related to a student's race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age or physical characteristics.
The bill now faces a full Senate vote.
Approval came over opposition from anti-gay groups that said the bill would lead to pro-gay curriculum.
Bill sponsor Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said that specific reasons for bullying are needed in laws because otherwise teachers may not consider bullying of gays, for instance, as a problem.
Debate centered on gay students, some of whom testified last week about harassment they face in schools. Dibble, one of two openly gay senators, said he knows more about gay students, but said harassment also occurs to those in the other categories in the bill.
"This is an issue that occurs in every corner of the state," he said.
Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council told the committee that he opposes the bill because groups backing it also want to remove "mother and father" from laws dealing with families.
"It goes beyond bullying and we have to understand that," Prichard said, adding that if enacted it would encourage gay-oriented education.
Parent Jill Rose said a Minneapolis school her children attend have enacted curriculum favoring the gay lifestyle, and fears Dibble's bill would lead to the same statewide.
Prichard, Rose and other bill opponents said they agree with the goal to eliminate bullying for any reason.
Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that by categorizing types of bullying the Legislature would establish more reasons to sue schools. Almost anything that happens between students could lead to lawsuits, he said.
Former educator Davis St. Germain of Edina, however, said he likes the measure because bullying is now the No. 1 Minnesota school problem. He said schools are war zones.
"Bullying is a learned behavior," he said. "It can be unlearned."