ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Those for and against an anti-bullying bill gave emotional and passionate testimony Tuesday at the Senate Education Hearing at the State Capitol.
Critics say language in the bill which protects specific group, including gays, threatens religious freedom. But supporters say the bill protects all students.
Two-hundred people waited in line to get into the hearing. Many, like the Ross family of Forest Lake, were forced to watch in an overflow room. They support the bill because sixth-grader Jake Ross was bullied while in second grade.
“I was scared to go to school,” Ross said. “There are other kids with stories of bullying that are worse, which is why this bill needs to pass.”
Opponents include Mindy Heine, a mother of three from Eden Prairie.
“I believe through this bill, some simple expressions of cultural and religious beliefs could be, by the definition they have laid out, perceived as bullying,” Heine said.
Kathy Trosvik’s 12-year-old son Tom hung himself in 2006 after he was bulled. She testified against the bill.
“I oppose this bill because it does not protect other children like Tom who are bullied because they are just quirky,” Trosvik said. “They don’t fit into any category.”
Sen. Scott Dibble, the bill’s author, says that while the bill mentions specific groups, including gays, it protects all kids.
Throughout the meeting, Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes, protested that Democrats were ignoring their concerns.
“This is about the innocence of your kids and nothing in this bill has been done to address that,” Chamberlain said.
But changes introduced Tuesday led to the backing of Roger Aronson, the attorney for the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals.
“This really is a good working bill that we can implement in schools,” Aronson said.
The committee did not take a vote because Republicans wanted to introduce their own amendments, some of which would leave out references to specific groups, including gays.
The committee will continue their discussion of this bill later Tuesday night, and a vote is expected.