One bill the state House sent to the Senate before Spring Break began would require school districts to have and annually review anti-bullying policies.
The House has passed several times in recent years bills requiring anti-bullying policies in Missouri schools, but none have become law.
Representative Sheila Solon (R-Blue Springs) says such policies protect children.
“Words hurt. Words are bullying, and words can hurt children for a lifetime,” Solon said during debate.
Democrats have often opposed Republican bullying proposals because Republicans prefer policies to have blanket prohibition on bullying any student. Democrats generally prefer bills to include enumeration – a list identifying groups who are more likely to be bullied, such as lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals.
Representative Randy Dunn (D-Kansas City) says without that, the bill doesn’t go far enough.
“It provides teachers with more tools and resources to be able to better identify when bullying is taking place or what forms of bullying may be taking place and what characteristics they should be looking out for as relates to the students who are more likely to be subjected to bullying,” said Dunn.
Not all Republicans back the proposal. Representative Bryan Spencer (R-Wentzville) related it to the response to protests in the fall at the University of Missouri.
“We all saw what happened at Mizzou with the ‘free speech zone. We’re changing the ‘freedom of speech’ to ‘freedom from speech,'” said Spencer.
Solon said that argument misses the point of the bill.
“When we make light of the fact that it’s about free speech – it’s not about free speech. It’s about putting injuries on children that they may never recover from,” said Solon.
The bill also requires districts to adopt a policy for identifying students at risk of suicide.
Bullying legislation has often run into trouble in the Senate, and business there has been slowed in recent weeks.