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New anti-bullying law passed unanimously
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New anti-bullying law passed unanimously

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A new anti-bullying bill, HB 2801, has passed the Washington state legislature and now goes to Gov. Christine Gregoire for her signature.

The vote was 48-0 in the State Senate and 97-0 in the State House. Gregoire is expected to sign it into law within the next week.

Highlights of the new law include:

o A revision of the state's model policy on bullying to be completed by August 1, 2011.

o Policy and procedure reports from individual school districts to be completed by August 15, 2011.

o Designation of one individual in each school district to act as point person for anti-bullying policies.

o Publication of the state's model policy along with training and instructional materials on the Superintendent of Public Instruction's website.

o Statewide rules on how the new policies and procedures will be communicated to parents, students, school employees, and volunteers.

o The office of the education ombudsman will be the lead agency in communicating the new policies to parents and families.

The bill expands anti-bullying legislation passed in 2002 and 2007.

State Rep. Marko Liias (D-21) was the prime sponsor of the bill. Liias told SGN he introduced the legislation in response to a report on bullying by Washington State University's Social and Economic Services Research Center.

"Washington State University studied the original bill and they studied what is the scope of the problem," Liias said. "They found bullying affects every school statewide and it impacts every student."

The SESRC report, issued in 2008, found that while "districts appear to have responded to their statutory requirement to have anti-bullying policies & they do not appear to be addressing bullying uniformly [and] students and parents continue to seek assistance against bullying."

The SESRC went on the say that "bullying has not declined significantly in Washington public schools since 2002, based on statewide data."

Liias first introduced new anti-bullying legislation in 2009, and again this year.

HB 2801 had 11 co-sponsors: Reps Johnson (R-14), Pedersen (D-43), Hunt (D-22), Orwall (D-33), Maxwell (D-41), Quall (D-40), Moeller (D-49), Chase (D-32), Williams (D-22), Nelson (D-34), and Simpson (D-47).

Olympia insiders credit Liias for putting together the bipartisan coalition that resulted in a unanimous vote this year.

"We've all been pretty fierce trying to get this issue through the legislature," Liias said modestly, "the sponsors, ERW, all the stakeholders."

"The key," Liias told SGN, "was the compelling testimony. Students with disabilities, people of color, it's not confined to any one community. Anyone who is different could be a target. That's the message the legislature heard."

"We tried hard to make sure it was a balanced message," Liias continued. "Even white middle-class kids who are straight might get bullied because they're kind of nerdy or whatever."

Liias admitted to some anxious moments as he steered his bill through the legislature.

"Last year the bill died because of the potential fiscal impact. This year the Senate cut a big piece out of it - a whole section relating to an ongoing body - for the same reason. We worked hard to minimize the cost component this year."

"The key thing is, this is one victory," Liias concluded. "There's a lot more to be done."

Newly appointed Equal Rights Washington Executive Director Josh Friedes agrees. In a statement released immediately after HB 2801 passed, Friedes addressed the financial issues that almost derailed the bill.

"To be certain, much work remains to be done to combat bullying in Washington Public Schools, but HB 2801 is an important step forward," he wrote. "A key finding of the 2008 report was that anti-bullying programs need to be funded. When the economic crisis lessens we will need to return to address the budgetary needs of anti-bullying programs."

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