Emotional Testimony on Bully Prevention Act

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Depression. Dropping out. Violence. Even suicide. The House Education Committee meeting to hear testimony on SB 1105, the bill to ramp up penalties on bullying in schools, was scheduled to run from 8-9:30 a.m., but it ran nearly 45 minutes over due to intense and emotional testimony from the dozen speakers who signed up and several more who were called on the spot.

"Ninety percent of students reported witnessing bullying in their high school," said Amy Herzfeld, executive director of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, presenting a survey conducted of incoming Boise State freshman.

And it only got grimmer from there.

"Nationally, suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth, " said Kim Kane, executive director of Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho. "In Idaho it's the second ... Bullying alone doesn't cause suicide but it does provide a clear path."

Several representatives were concerned with a line in the bill that would change language from "a student who violates any provision of this section may be guilty of a an infraction" to "shall be guilty of an infraction." One offered an anecdote about a student with a paring knife in her lunchbox violating weapons policy instituted after Columbine.

In addition to ramping up penalties for bullies the bill would also mandate training for teachers and staff, as well as for schools to record and report data on bullying.

"If we don't have clean valid data, we don't even know where to point," said Matt McCarter, Safe and Drug Free Schools coordinator for the Idaho Department of Education.

"I would like you to pass this bill so I can go to school and feel safe, instead of worrying that my jaw might get broken again," said a Jerome middle school student. He came to the hearing with his aunt to plead for help after his school had repeatedly failed to address numerous beatings he received from another student.

Rep. Jim Marriott, a Blackfoot Republican, introduced a motion to add in a line about ensuring every student's right to their own self-defense.

Representatives Brian Cronin, Richard Wills and others felt that was an issue for another day. Rep. Susan Chew, a Boise Democrat, even offered a cautionary tale of the time she brought a knife to her second grade class intending to stab a student who had been harassing her.

"It's opening up can of worms," she said.

"I don't understand what's opening up a can of worms about allowing us our second amendment rights," countered Marriott.

Marriott's motion failed 12-5. The original motion to send the bill to the house floor passed. Also 12-5.

No witnesses spoke against the bill.