Michigan legislators have been working on school anti-bullying legislation. "Matt's Safe School Law" passed the senate last week, with a controversial "religion and morality exemption," that bothered many bill supporters. The House of Representatives passed an amended version, leaving out the religion clause. Here's a history and update of the legislation.
The anti-bullying law was named for 14-year-old East Lansing, Mich., student Matt Epling, who committed suicide after a bullying assault in 2002. Epling's parents have been pushing lawmakers for legislation outlawing bullying in schools.
SB 137 version
The Michigan senate last week passed SB 137. The bill contained language that can exempt certain students from being punished for bullying. Kids can make derogatory statements based on "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction." For example, a Christian student could tell a gay student that homosexuality was a sin that would send him to hell.
Objections to SB 137
Lawmakers, including Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said SB 137 is a "blueprint for bullying." With no anti-bullying law, students are typically not allowed to make disparaging remarks against each other. As explained in an Ann Arbor Journal article, "That (religious or moral) exception would've provided schoolyard bullies a level of protection that they did not have even in the absence of an anti-bullying law." SB 137 would also punish kids who made bullying claims that turned out to be unsubstantiated. If kids objected to comments protected under section 8 wording, they could be liable to punishment for bullying.
HB 4163 version of "Matt's Law"
Instead of voting on SB 137, representatives passed HB 4163. The house says it is an amendment of the original anti-bullying law. Section 8 "religious and moral exemption" has been deleted. Democrats express some disappointment with HB 4163. Wording that listed protected classes was not added. Language would have stipulated students could not be bullied for disability, handicap, physical attribute, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, cultural expression or ethnic background.
Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben writes about people, places, events and issues in her native state of "Pure Michigan."