MNGOP Sen. Chamberlain objects to "emotional distress" in Dibble bill's definition of bullying

Chamberlain (right) thinks Dibble's notion of bullying casts the net too widely.

Chamberlain (right) thinks Dibble's notion of bullying casts the net too widely.

Last year, the MNGOP ran out the clock on Scott Dibble's anti-bullying bill on the final day of the legislative session.

Dibble vowed to renew his push this session, and so far, so good -- the bill, approved by the House last year, successfully made it past its first Senate committee hearing earlier this week.

But some Republicans remain opposed to Dibble's legislation, in part because they think it relies on an overly broad definition of bullying.

One of those opponents, Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, takes particular exception to a clause in Dibble's bill that characterizes "intentional infliction of emotional distress against a student" as bullying behavior.

"With the Dibble bill you can literally be in a classroom with 17-year-old juniors and have a discussion and there might be an area where someone, no matter who they are, could bring something up that someone might consider objectively offensive, and then be told they can't say that because Susie or Johnny over there doesn't believe that and they are offended by that difference of opinion," Chamberlain said, adding he worries that the free speech rights of students will be trampled if Dibble's bill becomes law.

And because Dibble's definition of bullying is overly broad, school districts will end up investing an inordinate amount of time and resources into enforcement, Chamberlain predicted.

"When you talk about emotional distress, that leaves very little discretion for educators and administrators," he said. "There will be a great number of instances and a great amount of reporting and paperwork requirements."

As a result of concerns of that sort, Chamberlain has introduced his own anti-bullying bill.

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"My approach is about maintaining local control and not costing the schools a ton more money," he said. "The Dibble bill is too broad and overreaching."

Chamberlain's bill doesn't include "emotional distress" in its definition of bullying, instead limiting it to conduct that interferes with educational opportunities, creates a "reasonable fear of harm," damages property, or "substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school."

Though he opposes Dibble's bill, Chamberlain sought to make clear he agrees bullying is a problem that needs to be addressed in Minnesota schools.

"I, like many others, was bullied as a kid," Chamberlain said. "I was a kid with big glasses, a crewcut, skinny and tall, so I, like everybody else, understand the trauma and the challenges, and we want to stop it and prevent it wherever we can."

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