Illinois Senate rejects anti-bullying bill — again

A photograph of the Illinois Statehouse. Photo: W. Wadas.

Updated  7:40 p.m.

The Illinois Senate again rejected legislation that would require Illinois schools to create anti-bullying programs and fully explain how they would investigate bullying instances 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.

Since the bill was introduced, several proponents worked to position the bill as about bullying in general and distance it from an LGBT-specific label.

“The Senate vote was a win for bullying, both in the classroom and in the capitol building,” said Shannon Sullivan, Executive Director of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. “Senators were blindsided by issues that weren’t even on the table, pressured by radical lobbyists that have no problem threatening the wellbeing of Illinois youth for their own personal gain and out-of-touch agenda.”

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.

“The Senate essentially ignored all professional opinions and evidence about effective bullying prevention strategies. HB 5290 would have fixed the loopholes that are allowing reports of bullying to simply fall through the cracks,” said Sarah Schriber, the coordinator of the Prevent School Violence Illinois coalition. “We will continue to work statewide and district-by-district to ensure all Illinois students can learn in schools that are safe and free of bullying and harassment.”

Conservative groups, such as the Illinois Family Institute, claimed the bill was unnecessary and it would have created 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 was 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.
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Story highlights
  • 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 vote roll call here.

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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 Schriber following the May 22 vote.

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.