Minnesota House debates anti-bullying bill

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Members of the Minnesota House spent hours Tuesday debating a bill aimed at toughening the state’s anti-bullying law.

The bill defines bullying, in part, as behavior that causes physical harm or fear of physical harm and “constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

“This provides a strong set of tools to create a strong local anti-bullying policy and create safe educational climates in Minnesota,” said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, the bill’s sponsor.

The measure already has cleared the Senate. Gov. Mark Dayton said he would sign the bill as soon as lawmakers send it to him.

The bill would require school districts to track and investigate cases of bullying and require schools to better train staff and teachers on how to prevent it. Current law requires school districts to have a bullying policy but omits details on what the policy should contain.

House members who oppose the measure argued that it would do little to reduce bullying, would remove local control from school districts and would be too expensive to implement.

“We’ll have created an expectation in law that children can go to school and be free from bullying, that they can be free from feeling bad, that everything will be perfectly harmonious in school,” said Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines.

Republicans repeatedly brought up their concerns that the measure would infringe on First Amendment rights.

“This bill deals with behavior, not belief,” Davnie countered.