Shortly before the Senate version of the anti-bullying bill went down in flames Wednesday afternoon, a fiery state Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) dared his House colleagues: "Tell me what's wrong with the Senate version of the bill. Tell me one word you don't like."
The House, signaling to Stam it wants to send the bill to a conference committee to parse the language, voted 68-56 to reject the Senate version of the School Violence Act.
At issue isn't the words included in the Senate's take on House Bill 1366, but the words that are left out: race, ethnicity, religion, disability, socio-economic class—and most notably, sexual orientation.
Co-sponsored by state Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), the measure would require North Carolina public school districts to adopt a policy prohibiting harassment or bullying of any student, but especially those classes of children deemed vulnerable. The Senate version strips the bill of language listing those classes. Instead, it dilutes the wording to read: "no student or school employee shall be subjected to bullying or harassing behavior by school employees or students."
Glazier implored the House to reject the Senate version and return the bill to committee to consider re-inserting references to protected classes, including socio-economic status.
"It is our job to get past prejudice and bias. Regardless of your views beyond this bill, this is about children," Glazier said. "It is our obligation to respect and defend and protect them in schools and when that isn't happening, we do not live up to our constitutional oath."
The N.C. Association of Educators, N.C. Association of Social Workers, Junior League, ARC and the Alliance of Disability Advocates support the House version, not the Senate's.
Last session, the House passed the bill 73-46, but it stalled after the Senate adopted its version, striking any explicit protections for protected classes, including gay and lesbian students. The bill carried over to the short session after the two chambers couldn't agree on the language.
In supporting the Senate version, state Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) quoted minutes of a State Board of Education meeting several years ago. During that meeting, board member and former Orange County state senator Howard Lee, in opposing listing protected classes, reportedly said: "When you start identifying people as victims they start acting like victims. They need to be taught they're not victims and take control of own destiny."
However, Glazier pointed out that even the U.S. Department of Education has taken a position that the "truly successful anti-bullying policies are the ones where districts focus on the most vulnerable of student populations."
"Many of the districts that have had incidents in North Carolina had policies about not bullying people," he went on. "But that general idea doesn't get it done when it comes to dealing with people's true feelings. That's the reason that this language is in the House version."
State Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) compared listing protected classes of children to candy. "Let me attack this from a logical standpoint," he said. "If we say no members can take candy from a candy jar, do you have list the all the types of candy?"
"If we were talking about candy I'd be glad to be in the debate," Glazier said. "But we're talking about the lives of children."