July 1, 2011

OUR OPINION: Protecting bullies instead of victims a cowardly act

We were encouraged and supportive when the Legislature advanced a bill designed to crack down on the serious problem of bullying in Maine schools. To say we were discouraged when lawmakers bailed out on the bill before adjourning Wednesday night would be an understatement.

We are, in fact, outraged -- although likely not as outraged as the countless victims of bullying whose school-going years become a torturous ordeal of fear and anguish instead of what they should be -- a joyous adventure of learning and personal growth.

The victims, come to think of it, may feel less indignant than hurt and abandoned, considering the daily misery they suffer at the hands of their tormentors.

But we can more or less guarantee that those students' parents and loved ones are mad as hell at a Legislature that stepped so close to the brink of doing the right thing and then ran away in a stunning exhibition of political expedience and legislative cowardice.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, in particular, eventually might wish they had spent some time pondering the potential wrath of voters who've been touched by the problem of bullying rather than hurriedly throwing them overboard at the insistence of conservative interests who opposed the anti-bullying bill.

The bill, L.D. 1237, had moved easily along the path toward passage earlier in the legislative session but hit a dead end on Wednesday after the Christian Civic League issued an "action alert" in opposition.

Suddenly, House Republicans were concerned about the cost of implementing a statewide anti-bullying program and also about compromising "First Amendment Rights for those who may express opposing views or opinions," as the Christian Civic League put it in the action alert headlined "Say No to Dangerous Anti-Bullying Bill LD1237."

Dangerous anti-bullying bill?

Now there's a masterpiece of upside down logic.

The only danger at issue here is the danger to students who are being verbally assaulted in school and on the Internet.

This Republican-controlled Legislature repeatedly considered and even passed irrelevant bills that offered solutions to nonexistent problems. Then, in the waning hours of the session, the State House problem-solvers couldn't bring themselves to confront a real and pervasive problem.

Instead, they opted to protect free-speech right for bullies -- as if this bill had anything to do with the mere expression of "views or opinions."

The only "opinions" targeted by L.D. 1237 are the denigrating, threatening opinions that bullies voice about their victims' appearance, personality, lifestyle and who knows what else.

Seriously, did someone actually say with a straight face that cracking down on the menace of bullying is a threat to free speech? Give us a break.

Democrats who supported the bill to the end responded with -- what was that word again -- outrage?

"It's hard to understand why anyone would oppose a bill that prevents bullying and protects kids," said Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the House minority leader.

"We've heard from so many teens, parents and teachers about the negative effects bullying has on students and their ability to succeed in school. We've seen the terrible consequences of bullying make the headlines in our newspapers. We have the power to help stop it, and we should."

"I'm disappointed to say the least," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Terry Morrison, D-Portland. "It's late in the game to reverse course on a bill that protects some of our most vulnerable students, who may be picked on because they don't fit in or because they are different."

Ah, different. Therein lies the rub.

According to the Christian Civic League and its minions in the House, L.D. 1237 is a scam orchestrated by homosexuals to promote the gay agenda.

Morrison, who is gay, apparently consulted with representatives of the gay community, among other groups and individuals, in constructing a bill to protect students targeted by bullies -- a segment of the population that includes a vast cross section of individuals, including, but certainly not limited to, gays.

The only hint of good news in this sorry episode is that the bill was sent back to committee and could be reconsidered next year.

We can only hope that, by then, a sufficient number of legislators can summon up enough spine, integrity and common sense to turn this long overdue bill into law.

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