As anti-bullying legislation begins to be introduced in Austin, it is interesting to look at what other states have done in the area comparatively. Anti-bullying legislation is relatively widespread throughout the United States, with 45 states having passed measures. Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota are the 5 states that do not have any anti-bullying laws. The difference in the state laws becomes the degree of protection and extent of definition in the laws. Bully Police USA, a watchdog organization advocating for bullied children, reports on state anti-bullying laws by giving each state a grade. How the organization grades states can be found here. One of the major criteria for a high grade is whether a cyberbullying clause is included in the legislation, an issue addressed in a few proposed anti-bullying bills in Texas this session, including HB 224, SB 245 and SB 42. Texas’ current legislation, passed in 2005, has a grade of a C- on Bully Police USA.
One of the most recently publicized states in the arena of anti-bullying legislation is New Jersey. A New York Times article describes the state’s law, signed by Governor Chris Christie in January 2011, as the nation’s toughest law against bullying. The law requires officials to run anti-bullying programs at every school, training for teachers and quick investigations of incidents, and it includes very strict consequences for bullying. The signing of this law came three months after the death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who committed suicide because he was bullied for being gay. Garden State Equality, a New Jersey gay rights organization that advocated for the bill said this law has become the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.” Several other states—including Georgia, New Hampshire, Maryland and Florida—have enacted similar, but slightly less strict, measures.
One state that has anti-bullying legislation but has pushed back against stricter measures is Minnesota. The state gets a C- on Bully Police USA, the same grade as Texas. In October of 2010, the Minnesota Independent reported about an LGBT anti-bullying initiative that passed the state legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer opposed to the stricter agenda. “I don’t think we need more laws. I think we need more understanding,” he said. “We are supposed to respect each other’s point of view, and we are not supposed to tell because they have a different point of view that they are not entitled to have that.”
This year’s Texas Legislature faces the question of whether or not to enact stricter anti-bullying measures. Bully Police USA is an anti-bullying advocacy organization that obviously thinks there should be stricter enactment, but others like Tom Emmer and several advocacy groups like Focus on the Family think that legislation should be less strict. The following two videos show responses to the New Jersey anti-bullying bill, both positive and cautionary.
There has been progress on all of the anti-bullying bills I am tracking in Texas this legislative session; all of the bills are presently in committee. The bills along with their progress are listed below:
- 82(R) HB 224-read first time, referred to the Public Education Committee, and scheduled for public hearing on March 1.
- 82(R) SB 245-read first time and referred to the Education Committee.
- 82(R) HB 24-read first time, referred to the Public Education Committee, and scheduled for public hearing on March 1.
- 82(R) HB 130-read first time, referred to the Human Services Committee, and scheduled for public hearing on March 1.
- 82(R) HB 170-read first time and referred to the Public Education Committee.
- 82(R) SB 42-read first time and referred to the Education Committee.
- 82(R) SB 205-read first time and referred to the Education Committee.
- 82(R) SB 242-read first time and referred to the Education Committee.