Michigan's state Senate dropped a bill Tuesday that critics called "a license to bully," and instead adopted a House version that represents a compromise among Republican lawmakers in a more comprehensive piece of legislation that would require anti-bullying policies in schools.
After the Senate passed the controversial anti-bullying bill, "Matt's Safe School Law," earlier this month, a wave of criticism poured in to lawmakers. The staunch opposition stemmed from a provision in the bill's language that permitted harassment by teachers and students if they can claim that their actions are rooted in a "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer most openly criticized the bill with an emotional speech, and a week later, the state House passed its own version of the anti-bullying bill, which smoothed over the language in the Senate's original draft.
The House's version of the bill, passed by the Senate today, 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."
The Senate's passage Tuesday of the House version was met with mixed response.
“It's a victory for me, but more importantly, it's a victory for students across the state,” Whitmer said after Tuesday's vote, The Grand Rapids Press reports. “People started calling my office to tell me their stories. I had one doctor from Kalamazoo who told us about his experience being bullied in school. He said he never told anyone about it. I still get chills thinking about it.”
Although the newly passed legislation doesn't include what critics say would have allowed bullying based on religious beliefs, it also doesn't include specifics like common causes of bullying -- such as instances based on race, religion or sexual orientation -- or detailed reporting requirements for instances of bullying, the Associated Press reports.
Whitmer told The Grand Rapids Press she will continue to work for stricter policies.
“But when you consider where we were, this is a good step,” she told the publication. “For the Senate to take this up first thing after a break shows something.”
The bill passed by a 35-2 vote and goes to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk.
If Snyder signs the bill, Michigan would join a host of other states that have adopted policies that protect students from harassment. California is the first state that requires public schools to teach about the contributions of gays and lesbians, and a measure to curb anti-gay bullying passed the state Senate in September.
New Jersey passed a law in January, effective as of September, requiring anti-bullying policies across the state's public schools. Known as the "Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights," the law is said to be the toughest piece of anti-bullying legislation in the country.