Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Two Very Important Bills Heard.   It was center stage for the HF 826, the anti-bullying bill authored by Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), today in the Senate Education Policy Committee.  The discussion of the bill began at this afternoon's hearing, but the committee ran out of time before the Republicans could offer any amendments, necessitating that the hearing continue at 6 PM and run until just before 8 PM.  One of the points of confusion sprung from the fact that the Republicans had drafted amendments to the original bill that no longer fit the format after the adoption of a strike-everything amendment offered by Senator Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley).  Senator Clausen has worked very closely with Senator Dibble over the past few months to find solutions to some of the problems related to application of the law in school districts.  Senator Clausen is a retired school administrator who has been on the front lines in school buildings dealing with the type of issues that HF 826 aims to correct.  His input into the bill addresses several of the pressing issues that caused most education groups consternation, particularly in terms of the definition of bullying and the bill's reporting requirements.  Under the amendment offered and passed by Senator Clausen, the definition of bullying has been tightened up dramatically and clearly differentiated from harassment.  Under the new definition, in order for behavior to be labelled bullying, it would have to be repeated, characterized by a difference in power between the bully and the target of bullying, interfere with a student's educational opportunities materially and substantially, and disrupt the work and discipline of the school.  This constitutes a much more concise definition than the definition contained in the original bill.  The bill also relaxes the mandatory reporting requirements contained in the bill up to this point.  The bill also allows local districts to determine how to train volunteers as opposed to having a statewide policy dictate that.

The Republicans offered a number of amendments after the committee re-convened, only three of which passed.  The most substantive of these amendments tightened up the definition further.  The Republicans also offered a strike-everything amendment that would have altered the anti-bullying policy contained in the bill to closely resemble that of North Dakota's.  North Dakota's anti-bullying policy scores a 13/16 grade on criteria developed by the federal Office of Civil Rights, but it lacks several elements that are of importance to the House and Senate authors of HF 826 and that have been endorsed by all the committees through which the bill has passed.  The "North Dakota" amendment failed on a party-line vote.

The new engrossment of the bill will be available after the committee report is reported to the Senate floor,which will likely occur on Thursday.   There will likely be more amendments offered as the bill moves to the Senate floor after a stop in the Finance Committee.  I will keep you posted of the chatter around this bill as it continues through the process.

The other bill of interest that was heard today was SF 2117 (Dahle), a bill that would expand the alternative facilities program (at least on a limited basis to start) to all school districts instead of limiting it to the current 25 districts that enjoy the advantages of this program.  The bill as introduced did not have an appropriation or a per pupil allowance for districts that do not currently employ the alternative facilities program.  An amendment offered in committee would give these districts $53/PU for the purposes outlined in the alternative facilities program.  That this rate, the total cost of the bill amounts to approximately $24.7 million.  This bill would fulfill one of the platform planks of the 2014 SEE platform and I would urge those interested to contact Senator Dahle, thanking him for introducing and strengthening his bill, and also contacting Senate leadership to put this bill into their overall budget plans.

Here is a link to SF 2117.  After the amendment, the blank on 1.15 should be filled with the amount of $53.

SF 2117:  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=SF2117&session=ls88&version=latest&session_number=0&session_year=2014

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