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Michigan Senate passes anti-bullying bill without religious exemptions


LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan state Senate on Tuesday dropped it’s “license to bully” bill, and instead passed a House version of the bill that stripped religious exemptions and that would require anti-bullying policies in the state’s public schools.

The House bill requires all school districts have an anti-bullying policy – policies that must be reported to the Michigan Department of Education. The education department would then need to report to the Legislature on the status of the implementation of the policies. But House Democrats said more reporting is needed to determine if the policies are working.

Michigan lawmakers faced national criticism when the Senate passed its version of the bill on Nov. 2 that contained controversial language inserted by Senate Republicans that allowed for exceptions to the law for “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

Critics blasted the original Senate bill, calling it a “license to bully.”

The House version was intended as a compromise, although House Democrats said the bill — even though it received bipartisan support — does not go far enough.

The Senate’s passage of the House version was met with mixed response.

“We’re thrilled that we were able to eliminate the destructive ‘license to bully’ that the Senate first approved in October. National outrage provoked by the last-minute substitution to allow bullying based on religious beliefs is a clear indicator that our Senate majority is out of touch with the voters.” said Emily Dievendorf, Director of Policy for Equality Michigan.

“That being said, we’re disappointed by the weak version of the bill passed today. Directed by the biases of a few, our Senate missed another opportunity to do right by our kids. Today’s bill will do little to stem the tide of bullying because it doesn’t enumerate commonly targeted characteristics.

Case studies have found that school employees are unlikely to recognize and report incidents when bias bullying is not placed deliberately on their radar. Both Oregon and Washington passed weak bills like this one and had to go back and revise them years later when data showed the initial bills had failed. This kind of delay is not an acceptable response to Michigan’s bullying crisis.” Dievendorf added.

The bill, HB 4163, was passed in the House on Nov. 10 by a vote of 88-18, and in the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 35-2.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is reported to be “very likely” to sign the legislation.

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