NJ legislature passes anti-bullying law

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Lawmakers in both chambers of the New Jersey General Assembly voted Monday to approve a bill that would strengthen the state’s anti-bullying law and that explicitly references bullying based on sexual orientation.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights passed with vast bipartisan support Nov. 22, sailing through the Senate in a 30-0 vote and the Assembly with a 71-1 vote, with five abstentions. Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R) cast the only dissenting vote.

It was unclear whether Gov. Chris Christie (R) would sign the bill, and his office had not responded to a call by PGN as of press time.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D), the prime sponsor in the Assembly, hailed the vote in a statement Monday, saying the measure will go a long way to ensure that state’s youth are well protected in the classroom.

“In 2002, New Jersey adopted its first anti-bullying legislation encouraging school districts to actively combat bullying. Some districts have done an impressive job in answering that call. Others have not,” she said. “This legislation makes it clear that preventing and responding to incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying are not optional.”

The bill sets up uniform standards for both students and educators, mandating disciplinary action against teachers who ignore bullying incidents and requiring schools to be scored annually by the Commissioner of Education on their handling of harassment cases. It also puts in place training for school officials and creates school-safety teams to review bullying complaints.

The measure describes harassment, intimidation and bullying as any gesture, written, verbal or physical act or electronic communication reasonably perceived to be motivated by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion or sexual orientation, or any other “distinguishing characteristic.”

Carroll said he decided to vote against the bill for several reasons, such as possible costs associated with training and even lawsuits, but primarily said he opposed the measure because it outlaws bullying based on the listed characteristics.

“This bill defines bullying as akin to a biased crime,” he told PGN this week. “It says that bullying consists of doing things to people who happen to have a particular status, instead of saying all victims are created equal. I was bullied when I was a child, and I’m not gay or disabled or black — the bully just thought I was a weakling — so why shouldn’t I have been treated equally under this law?”

LGBT-rights group Garden State Equality supported the bill throughout its short tenure in the Assembly: The measure had been in the works since the beginning of the year but was introduced in October, shortly after the suicide death of gay Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi.

Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, said the bill’s success signals progress for all bullied students, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“As someone brutally bullied in my own youth, I can’t even begin to describe how the passage of this bill is a moment of deeply poignant, personal healing for me and thousands of others who have been bullied,” he said. “The best revenge is to make the world a kinder place. This legislation will make our state a kinder, safer place for students for generations to come.”

Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, commended the lawmakers for their votes, and said the measure, if enacted, can be used as a model for other states.

“Bullying, and in particular anti-LGBT bullying, is a public-health crisis in our country that is affecting countless young people’s ability to get an education,” she said. “What already was one of the strongest laws in the country is now even stronger.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].