Many people have asked why in the world the House of Representatives sent an anti-bullying bill back to committee on the last day of the legislative session.

Several news outlets and Democratic leadership questioned the courage, compassion and integrity of anyone who would oppose this proposed bill, which Minority Whip Teresea Hayes, D-Buckfield, called “a no-brainer.”

So what happened? Earlier this year, I received a call from a reporter (a recent Maine journalist of the year) asking for comment regarding anti-bullying legislation. This journalist had heard the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network was targeting Maine to implement Safe School Kids via anti-bullying legislation. I chose not to respond until I did some research.

I eventually told the reporter I might have concerns about the bills, but the Christian Civic League is totally opposed to bullying or the marginalization of any Maine students.

Shortly after that, several bills surfaced, including L.D. 1237, written by attorney Mary Bonauto from GLAD Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).

I sent the proposed bill to our legal analysts. They had major concerns regarding the bill’s ambiguity in its definitions, its enforceability because of creating jurisdiction beyond school grounds and functions, and the lack of First Amendment protections.

I shared these concerns with the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee during public hearings for L.D. 1237. Also speaking against the bill was Sandra MacArthur, of the Maine School Management Association, representing school boards and superintendents. The Maine Principals Association, along with MacArthur, said existing laws made this bill redundant. Despite our testimonies, the committee members sent the bill with an overwhelming “ought to pass” recommendation to the House.

The bill eventually received unanimous approval passing “under the gavel” in the House and then approved in the Senate with a 28-6 vote, sending it to Appropriations for financial consideration. Because of costs associated with training and enforcement, the bill created an unfunded mandate, and required a two-thirds vote in the House.

This is where concerns arose jeopardizing the bill. After ensuring our legal analysis was still valid, I checked to make sure the School Management Association still objected to the bill. I sent an action alert to our email subscribers encouraging them to let legislators know their concerns; I also sent the alert to the Republicans in the Senate and House.

L.D. 1237 came to the floor of the House and faced certain defeat when it was pulled by Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, hoping for passage the following day. When it became clear this bill no longer had necessary support, it was sent back to committee. The bill’s supporters were shocked legislation that had initially enjoyed such incredible support had been thwarted.

So how did this happen? In my opinion, legislators found it difficult to objectively and carefully look at the weaknesses of this bill because of the justifiable concern we all share regarding the emotional and legitimate issue of bullying in our schools. The subsequent reaction against anyone who dared point out the problems with this particular bill is evidence of the pressure exerted on critical voices to be silenced and to just go with the flow.

While I empathize with fellow citizens who are frustrated with bullying and may wonder why someone might vote “this way,” I am disappointed with the rhetoric from the media and Democratic leadership portraying anyone who opposed this bill as cowardly and uncaring toward the victims of bullying.

For the record, I hate bullying. I was 5-feet, 1-inch in the ninth grade and was the victim of bullying; there were days I did not want to go to school. I don’t know any legislator who isn’t committed to seeing an effective solution to this problem in our schools.

The Christian Civic League is committed to assisting anyone in crafting legislation regarding this issue. I pray we can cut through the caustic, accusatory rhetoric and offer a bill in the near future that will make our public schools a safe place for all Maine students.

Carroll Conley is executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine.

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