Updated May 29, 2012 – 4:50 p.m.
Legislation that would require Illinois schools to create anti-bullying programs and fully explain how they would investigate bullying instances failed to pass in the state Senate again Tuesday after an initial vote stalled the bill last week. The legislation fell one vote short of passage amid concerns raised by anti-gay lobbyists that it could be used to promote acceptance of homosexuality.
State senators voted 29-21 Tuesday with six “present” votes. Just one week ago, the bill, HB5290, garnered the same support in the earlier vote (29-12) with 12 “present” votes. Supporters hoped more yes votes could be secured before it was called in front of the Senate again before the legislative session ends May 31.
Conservative groups, such as the Illinois Family Institute, claimed the bill is unnecessary and it would create an anti-Christian environment, where students would not be able to opt-out of policies that are against their religious beliefs.
But supporters of the measure said the bill is about preventing and addressing bullying, not lecturing students on personal beliefs regarding gender identity or sexual orientation.
“The bill will protect a Christian child who doesn’t want to party as much as it is going to protect a gay kid who is seen as different,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), one of the sponsors of the legislation in the House.
Cassidy rebuffed the accusations of a hidden homosexual agenda under the bill text, saying she cares “deeply” about students being able to go to school to learn rather than being harassed for who they are.
- Anti-bullying bill initially defeated 29-12 in Senate vote, and then again in 29-21 vote May 29.
- Conservative Christian groups called the bill unnecessary, said it undermines their beliefs.
- View the May 29 Senate votes here.
The legislation would have put Illinois among states with the most comprehensive anti-bullying legislation, such as Delaware, Florida and Kentucky, with laws that address cyberbullying and requires free counseling for victims.
“This bill is not about forcing schools to accept any specific behavior, it’s about information,” said Sarah Schriber, an advocate at Prevent School Violence Illinois, a coalition of parents and educators that promotes safe school environments which supports the measure.
After the initial defeat, Schriber said the content of the bill has been debated over the past few months and it’s “important to highlight the broad aspect of it.”
“It provides schools with the prevention and intervention tools to fully address the bullying problem,” she said. “Each school community will be able to apply the provisions of the bill according to their specific needs.”
Laurie Higgins, director of school advocacy for the Illinois Family Institute, told Chicago Phoenix last week the amendment is problematic for two reasons: it fails to include a opt-out provision and it is based on “assumptions” that certain sexual orientations and gender identity issues should be tolerated.
“Our problem is with the idea that conservatives are seen as endorsers of bullying,” Higgins said. “Homosexual activists believe the only way to address bullying is to silence people with conservative moral beliefs.”
Higgins said she has four school-age children and said she not only expects them not to bully but also to let teachers know if they see someone being bullied.
“The bill is going to be used as a tool to attack and undermine conservative Christian beliefs,” Higgins said.
Chicago Phoenix will update this story as it develops.