HELENA – Montana is nearing final approval of a bill defining and prohibiting bullying in Montana, the only state without an anti-bullying law.
Senators passed the bill, 37-10, on second reading Saturday. It must pass a final vote in the Senate before heading to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
The proposal from Democratic Rep. Kimberly Dudik of Missoula would originally have directed public school districts to adopt certain policies addressing the issue of bullying. The bill was amended in the House to simply prohibit students and teachers from bullying any student in a public K-12 school. It does not explicitly refer to cyberbullying but would forbid it under the general bullying ban.
Democratic Sen. Mary Sheehy Moe of Great Falls carried the measure in the Senate and said Friday that, with the rise of cellphones and social media, peer-to-peer torment continues outside school walls.
"Bullying, harassment and intimidation are real issues in schools," Moe said. "You probably remember that there was some level of that when you went to school, but in modern times, students can't get away from it."
Bullying victims have poured into the Legislature throughout the vetting process. Parents and students have voiced concerns about the rise of cyberbullying and related suicides. Opponents have questioned if the measure is necessary since recently adopted state regulations provides similar protections.
With the amendments, however, the bill and existing rules achieve slightly different ends. A violation of the administrative rule counts against schools' accreditation ratings, whereas Dudik said that codifying a definition and prohibition of bullying would allow parents and local authorities to go after bullies, schools or education officials who break the law.
With the exception of 2009, anti-bullying legislation has been proposed every legislative session since 2003. The bills failed largely due to Republican opposition citing local school control.