AUGUSTA – Last-minute lobbying against a bill addressing bullying in schools, paired with concerns about its cost, delayed passage of the measure until at least next year.

In votes taken Wednesday, the Legislature agreed to send the proposal back to committee rather than reject it, once it was apparent that it lacked sufficient support for passage.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has proven frugal in this session, so it was not surprising that many members took issue with the bill, which calls for the Department of Education to develop an anti-bullying policy and provide training to school systems, which would be required to adopt it.

The bill likely failed to get the two-thirds majority it needed in the House because those cost concerns were combined with an action alert from the Christian Civic League. The group wrote in an email that the bill, L.D. 1237, “offers no guarantees of First Amendment rights for those who may express opposing views or opinions.”

The alert claimed that the measure was drafted by a gay rights lawyer, Mary Bonauto, “whose agenda promotes her ideology rather than just protecting students from bullying.”

The bill had extensive support in committee and initial floor votes, and Republicans and Democrats said they were surprised Tuesday when it fell short in a House vote. The alert was issued on Monday.

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Rep. Terry Morrison, D-South Portland, an openly gay lawmaker, said he sponsored the legislation to help protect all students from bullying.

“Students, in my opinion, deserve a quality education and to be in an environment without fear and hate. And if we can’t provide that, we’re not doing our job as legislators,” he said.

He said he had heard a lot of comments about the measure being about “the gay agenda.”

“They felt that because EqualityMaine worked well with me, and I worked with them through this process, that it was a gay agenda,” Morrison said.

He said there’s no doubt that gay youths are bullied and that the bill would help them. “But they made it about the gay agenda and it really wasn’t,” he said.

House Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, acknowledged that some members of his caucus recently changed their minds about supporting the bill.

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Though an amendment to make adoption of the state-prescribed anti-bullying policy voluntary for school districts was in the works, it was never offered because it wasn’t expected to change enough votes to get the bill passed.

When asked how much of a role the Christian Civic League’s alert played, Cushing said: “What we heard this morning was overwhelmingly that they had heard from local school boards that they didn’t want a one-size-fits-all.”

Morrison said opponents of the bill had plenty of time to come to him with their concerns but didn’t emerge until the last minute.

“We were put in this position where we didn’t have time to fight. If we had known this a month ago, things would have been much different today,” he said.

Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, had expressed support for the bill before Wednesday’s votes.

When first asked how he felt about bullying, LePage joked, “Every school ought to have a woodshed and the bullies should be brought to the woodshed.”

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He then said he has no tolerance for bullying, child abuse or domestic violence.

“Anything that stops the bullying is good to me,” he said of the measure.

A law passed in recent years directed the Department of Education to put together an anti-bullying guidebook to be used by school units as a resource.

“It’s been an ongoing issue that the department has paid attention to and has developed resources that can somewhat easily be translated into the form of a policy,” said Matthew Stone, a spokesman for the department.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]

 


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