ST. PAUL — Less than 24 hours after clearing the Minnesota state House, Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday signed Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act into law, a bill aimed at strengthening the state’s anti-bullying law.
The outdoor ceremony on the steps of the state capitol was attended by students who have been victims of bullying, and scores of LGBT community members and allies who have long championed the bill.
The measure requires school leaders to develop a comprehensive anti-bullying policy, train staff to prevent bullying, and quickly investigate allegations. Current state law requires school districts to have a bullying policy but doesn’t include details on what the policy should contain.
Tammy Aaberg, whose 15-year-old son Justin committed suicide in 2010 following intense bullying because he was gay, and who spent years lobbying for the bill’s passage, said she is is grateful for the hard work that has led to this day.
“I’m so very happy the Safe and Supportive Schools bill finally passed and that other kids will have the protection that they need,” she said.
The law was faced considerable opposition from anti-gay and conservative groups who accused supporters of advancing a social agenda.
Critics argued the law will subject more kids to punishment for expressing their religious beliefs or engaging in other youthful behavior. Supporters say it will provide a safer learning environment for children.
The bill passed the Senate last week with on a 36-31 vote with all Republicans and three Democrats voting against it. Tuesday’s House session was acrimonious and debate from House Republicans ran for nearly 12 hours before the final vote shortly after midnight Wednesday. The House vote was 69-63, mostly along party lines.
Some Republicans expressed concern that the legislation would force school districts to teach young students about sexuality.
State Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) said the bill would expose students to “filthy, perverted information.”
Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, the chief sponsor of the measure in the House, said the legislation is needed to ensure students feel safe at school, and reiterated that the bill has nothing to do with classroom curriculum.