Amy Hunter

Legislative Malfeasance in Michigan

Filed By Amy Hunter | November 04, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: anti-bullying, anti-LGBT bullying, hate crimes against LGBT people, Michigan, state Senate

michigan.gifAn "anti-bullying" bill with exceptions, really?

In a stunning misrepresentation of the public trust, ultra-conservatives in Michigan pushed an "anti-bullying" initiative through the state Senate Wednesday after attaching an amendment that radically changed the legislation's impact. The surprise change guts the bill by giving bullies a pass if their offense was perpetrated because of "deep moral conviction" or "religious belief." Senate Bill 137, originally intended to protect all students from bullying, was under a cloud of criticism by Democrats and the gay and transgender community for its lack of enumerated protections before being eviscerated further by right-wing conservatives.

Lack of enumeration was already a point that gay, transgender and progressive communities were citing when characterizing SB 137 as "weak." An enumerated bill would be a much stronger measure as it would list, or enumerate, classes of people that are most often targeted by bullies. Much like non-discrimination or equal opportunity laws which list, race, creed, age, sex, etc., enumeration of this anti-bullying bill would provide protections for specific characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The recent and tragic uptick in suicides related to the bullying of gay and transgender students, along with well-established research, points to a dire need for specific protections.

In Michigan, where the fight for any anti-bullying legislation has gone on for years, the call by Governor Rick Snyder last June in an education policy speech for "strong, comprehensive anti-bullying legislation" was seen as a request even the hostile Republican-controlled legislature could not ignore. Unfortunately, it soon became evident that lawmakers would not follow the Governor's lead as they blocked well-considered enumerated legislation from making it out of committee.

Embarrassingly, Michigan has neglected to take action for at least ten years while states around the nation have passed enumerated legislation. This leaves Michigan among a mere handful of states that have perpetually failed to adequately protect their youth. In 2002, fourteen year-old Matt Epling, a freshman high school student whom had been assaulted as part of a hazing ritual, committed suicide. Under relentless pressure from his peers and threat of retaliation if he pursued charges, Matt ended his own life. Matt's parents have helped create the growing public awareness that bullying is a serious and widespread problem. Noting the increased risk to minorities and marginalized groups, the gay and transgender community has since lobbied unceasingly for the passage of "Matt's Law" in hopes of addressing the consequences of unrestrained hostility toward students based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

As of this writing, the Michigan House of Representatives has the opportunity to shelve this cynical piece of lawmaking in favor of a much stronger bill which would not only leave out the so-called "moral convictions" exception, but would also offer specific protections. It is time for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to take a firm, principled stand instead of appeasing a right-wing minority with vague language detailing nothing except "perceived characteristics."

Our elected representatives owe the citizens of this state swift, responsible action. Far too many lives have been lost or damaged beyond repair for there to be an excuse which legitimizes the political and ideological ends social conservatives seek. The House of Representatives must go far beyond a hollowed out political football and instead of playing games with our young people's lives offer an enumerated bill with strong protections for all at-risk youth and far-ranging consequences for those who perpetrate violence against their peers.

Please sign this petition for Michigan House to pass a better bill.

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Senator Gretchen Whitmer is getting a lot of attention for her eviscerating and scathing statements against the Republicans who voted for this twisted and perverted bill, and the attention is well deserved. The ways this bill has been warped to essentially protect the people who bully and to give others who bully an escape clause is disgusting. That it still bears Matt Epling's name is the final smack in the face.

As a former Michigander, I wrote to Whitmer to thank her for being brave enough to take a stand and drag all the Republican delusions of having done something about bullying out into the light. Those Republicans may be patting themselves on the back and giving each other gold stars, but at least someone stood up and said that what they did deserves no such congratulation among themselves or from voters who actually care about anti-bullying initiatives.

luminum -
I couldn't agree with you more. Senator Whitmer's is a consistent bastion of integrity in the senate.

Sadly Michigan is becoming a state full of Fox News addicts that have been brain washed into changing the social structure to one run by bigotry and selfishness. We have a fascist junta running the show in Lansing and yet no one seems to find anything wrong with it.

boehmianrhapsody | November 5, 2011 8:40 AM
The government? Perhaps. But the state itself? Not so much. The Republicans have historically dominated the redistricting process, and they will again this cycle due to their control of all three branches. The Center for Michigan had some handy numbers.

Legislative districts are engineered for partisan political advantage. In recent years, that advantage has been with the Republicans. Over the last 10 years, GOP candidates for the House won 47 percent of the statewide vote and collected 50.7 percent of the total seats; in the Senate, Republicans got 49.3 percent of the votes but took 60.5 percent of the seats.

2010 was a fine example of this. Despite it being a "wave" election for Republicans, the electorate was about 53.4% Republican / 46.6% Democratic. (I based this on the major party State Board of Education candidates.) Yet the Republicans managed to leverage that slim majority of votes into capturing 57% of the House seats and a more than two-thirds supermajority in the Senate.

customartist | November 5, 2011 3:21 PM

Are the children of Michigan Republican Legislators protected under Michigan Law?

As disgusting a move as this is, there is one insanely funny aspect to it: Bullying Christian kids due to religious or moral objections is just fine and dandy. I single out Christians, not because I am anti-Christian, but because the language was obviously inserted to protect them from punishment for bullying LGBT kids.