Michigan's state House passed its own version of an anti-bullying Thursday, smoothing over the language in a bill passed by the Senate last week that sparked a widespread wave of criticism.
The Senate's controversial bill included language that some say protect bullies, by prohibiting anti-bullying policies that ban "a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction." The bill, dubbed "Matt's Safe School Law," is named after a Michigan teen who committed suicide in 2002 after falling victim to bullying.
The House's version of the bill doesn't include the controversial religious language and requires all public, charter and intermediate school districts to implement the policy. The bill passed 88-18 and is also a bipartisan result of the House's promise to seek a compromise that Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger said will "bring everyone to the middle of the road and provide protection to all students."
"For many years, people have agreed that bullying is wrong and something needed to be done, but they couldn't find the compassion to compromise, temper their demands and focus on the kids," Bolger said in a statement Thursday. "Bullying is wrong. It doesn't matter who you are, who you are bullying or why you are doing it."
Republican Rep. Phil Potvin, the bill's main sponsor, told the Detroit Free Press that Michigan is just one of three states in the country that does not have an anti-bullying law.
Some say the bill still doesn't protect students enough, and should specifically acknowledge common causes of bullying, such as instances based on race, religion or sexual orientation.
"Equality Michigan applauds the Democratic legislators in the House that pushed for the addition of the strong language that would actually protect our students from bullying," Emily Dievendorf of Equality Michigan said in a statement to the Michigan Messenger. "Unfortunately, the pressure to pass just anything squashed their ability to make this bill something effective that we can celebrate. We have the case studies and data to know how to create a strong bill the first time."
Others are also asking for protections against both in-school and out-of-school online bullying as well as mandates to report bullying to the state Department of Education for tracking. Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib told the Detroit News that her younger siblings were bullied at school and her 13-year-old niece, a straight-A student, had been physically beaten and verbally bullied at school.
"We owe our children more," Tlaib told the Detroit News. "They deserve protection that cannot be misconstrued or limited."
The bill now goes to the Senate for approval.