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Does bullying bill bully Minnesota’s schools?

By Don Davis

Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Republicans say that an anti-bullying bill actually increases bullying.

They say that the bill senators passed Thursday bullies school districts by handing them an unfunded mandate.

Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, said the bill delivers one main message: “In St. Paul, we know better.”

During five hours of debate, Republicans repeatedly complained that the bill steals local control from schools.

“With this bill, our locally elected school board, our school administrators and our teachers, all who live in and are part of our communities, will no longer have the ability to implement a bullying policy that fits our rural schools,” Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said.

Under the bill, he said, the state Education Department will tell schools how to write bullying policies at a cost of $19 million a year. Newman said the cost especially will hit rural districts hard.

Obviously, Democrats disagree.

They say the bill provides a clearer definition of bullying and provides better ways to respond to bullying. DFL senators also said that district will develop its own policies, without the state force the specifics.

Sen. Scott Dibble, who pushed the bill to victory a year after he spearheaded legalizing gay marriage, said students need more protection than the 37-word law that now governs the issue.

“No child in Minnesota should have to choose on a daily basis between feeling safe and going to school, and with passage of this bill, they no longer have to,” Dibble said. “Our students will now be able to feel supported, our teachers and administrators will have the tools and training they need to address bullying, and our parents will not have to worry about the safety of their kids in schools.”

Bullying of gay students brought the issue to light, linking the bill to gay marriage issues debated the last couple of years.

The bullying vote was partisan, with all but three Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed. Democrats who voted against the bill are the same ones who voted against legalizing gay marriage a year ago: Lyle Koenen of Clara City, Dan Sparks of Austin and LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer.

FDA looks at e-cigarettes

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is preparing a rule that would give it control over electronic cigarettes.

A Reuters story quotes FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg as saying the rule will come “very soon.” At the same time in Minnesota, it is not clear if state legislators will pass a bill to regulate the water-vapor cigarettes.

A state Senate bill would treat e-cigarettes like tobacco ones and ban them from public places, while a House measure limits youths’ access to them.

Several states are looking into whether to regulate e-cigarettes, work that could be usurped by FDA action.

In 2009, Congress gave the FDA authority to regulate cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. It also gave the agency power to regulate other tobacco products once it issues a rule.

On Thursday, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014.

Not much impact

Minnesota will be little affected by a highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated overall campaign contribution limits for individual donors.

Rich donors faced limits to contributions to federal candidates, parties and political action committees. Since Minnesota has not had an overall limit, the impact is limited to Minnesotans who give lots of money to presidential and congressional candidates.

Looking for miracle

State Rep. Alice Hausman issued her dream bill to fund more than $1 billion in public works, knowing she needed to write a smaller bill.

When the second bill came out, at $850 million, the St. Paul Democrat said she wanted to add some of the projects back into it.

“When you put a bill like this together and it is a small bill and you are told to include certain projects ... it is like you are being asked to perform a miracle,” Hausman said.

However, there is no indication from House leaders that the proposal will grow.

State of State set

Gov. Mark Dayton plans to deliver his State of the State address the second day lawmakers are back at work after an Easter-Passover break.

He expects to address lawmakers and the state from the House chamber at 7 p.m. April 23.

Dayton delayed his speech, which normally would have been delivered long before now, because of hip surgery. He is back in the Capitol after being homebound for weeks.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.