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Bullying Bills Could Bring Biggest Battles at State Capitol

PHOTO: Efforts to address bullying in Minnesota schools and workplaces are expected to garner much debate as the gavel drops Tuesday for the opening of the 2014 Legislative Session. Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue
PHOTO: Efforts to address bullying in Minnesota schools and workplaces are expected to garner much debate as the gavel drops Tuesday for the opening of the 2014 Legislative Session. Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue
February 24, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota lawmakers return to St. Paul on Tuesday for the start of the 2014 session, where there will be another push to address bullying both in schools and in workplaces. For schools, the current law in Minnesota aimed at bullying prevention is just 37 words. According to State Senator Scott Dibble of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, it's recognized as the weakest such law in the country.

"Kids are experiencing bullying as if there is nothing available to protect them, because schools just don't have a plan for adequate response to recognize it, to intervene and to do prevention," he charged. "And so we came up with some best practices to encourage schools to adopt strong anti-bullying policies."

Opponents of the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act argue that it will be just another layer of unneeded bureaucracy and its effect will be minimal.

This year's session also will see an effort to start to address the issue of bullying in the workplace, with the public sector taking the lead. That bill seeks the creation of a proposed policy for state agencies, with a report due to the Legislature next year. According to the DFL President of the Minnesota Senate, Sandy Pappas, that issue is a problem that must be dealt with.

"You want to do your research and see what the data tells you, and I think it's important to be proactive, because some people assume that, 'Oh, gee, my boss can berate me; I just have to grin and bear it,' when that shouldn't be the case," she said. "People need to be treated with respect and fairness."

The bill calls for the policy to be established with the collaboration of labor groups and include procedures for safe reporting.

"If someone complains about being bullied, then are there retaliation measures? And of course you can reach the level of a hostile work environment and then have a human rights lawsuit if it's too extreme," she warned. "So we should really nip these in the bud."

Among those in support of the anti-bullying policy for government workers is the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, which represents roughly 13,000 state workers.

Information on The Safe Schools Act is at www.house.leg.state.mn.us.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN