Washington Lawmakers Pass Anti-Bullying Bill

by Shaun Knittel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 22, 2011

Washington lawmakers passed a bill on April 13 that would require schools to adopt an anti-bullying policy that includes sexual orientation and other protected classes under the state's hate crimes law.

Openly gay state Rep. Marko Liias (D-Edmonds) sponsored House Bill 1163, which will now go to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature. The measure would do several things: It would require the state Education Ombudsman and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to set up an ongoing work group on bullying and harassment prevention; it would mandate the governing boards of the state's community and technical colleges to create and evaluate anti-bullying policies and procedures; it would add mental health and suicide prevention education to the essential learning requirements in health and fitness curricula and it would requires that all school districts make their anti-bullying policies and procedures public.

HB 1163 builds upon Liias' efforts in the last legislative session to expand anti-bullying laws that passed in 2002, 2007 and 2009.

The 2002 bill required schools to adopt an anti-bullying policy that included sexual orientation and other protected classes under Washington's hate crimes law. Lawmakers expanded the statute's scope in 2007 to prohibit cyber-bullying by other students. And legislators added gender identity and expression to the bill in 2009.

Liias's 2010 bill called for a new revision of the state's anti-bullying policy and the designation of one individual in each school district to be the "point person" for implementing the policy. The measure, which members of both the House and Senate unanimously passed, required each school district to create a structure to manage harassment and bullying complaints and to publish its policies and procedures for dealing with them online.

"[HB 1163] takes a huge step forward by requiring all our schools to teach about suicide prevention and mental health, which will provide better protection for the victims of bullying," Liias told EDGE. "We will also convene a group of experts to help advise on even more ways to make our schools safer for all kids. Tackling school bullying and harassment has never been a short-term issue, we know it will take continuous pressure and effort to make every school a safe and respectful place for our students."

The House voted 76-21 on March 22 to pass HB 1163. The state Senate passed the bill in a 41-6 vote on April 4. Since the Senate amended the original bill, it had to return to the House. Members agreed to the Senate amendment by a 73-23 margin on April 13.

The governor has indicated she will sign the bill.

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.

Comments on Facebook