HELENA — Montana has moved one step closer to joining every other state in the country in making anti-bullying policy law under a bill endorsed by the House on Wednesday.
House Bill 284, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Kimberly Dudik of Missoula, passed on second reading by a vote of 74-26.
The bill would define bullying, ban it in public schools and require public school districts to adopt their own policies addressing the issue. It was also amended in committee to allow for court action. Currently, parents of harassed students can take their complaint only as far as a school board, Dudik said.
“There was concern in the committee that this bill did not have enough teeth,” Dudik said. “If they (parents) don’t think something is being done, they can take it to the court system. They can force their schools to do more.”
The measure would explicitly define bullying as any repeated harassment, hazing or threatening online or in person.
From 2012 to 2014, 3,000 students in Montana schools were either expelled or suspended for bullying and harassment. Thirty-eight percent of Montana seventh and eighth graders have stated they are being bullied, while 26 percent of high school students say they are being bullied, Dudik said.
No lawmaker spoke in opposition Wednesday. Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer, said she supports the bill in part because a relative of hers was bullied extensively while she worked as a page during a previous Legislative session.
“Bullying affects so many of our kids in such a hard, hurtful way,” she said.
By 2010, 46 states had established anti-bullying laws. Hawaii, Michigan and South Dakota were the last to make changes, leaving Montana as the only state that hasn’t addressed the issue with legislation.
Anti-bullying measures have been brought before the Montana Legislature at least five times, and most died along party lines. Republican lawmakers have cited the idea of giving school districts local control as their primary opposition to anti-bullying provisions in the state.
If the bill passes third reading, the bill will go to the Senate for consideration.
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