Prompted in part by last month’s suicide of a Rutgers University freshman who was outed as gay in cyberspace, a new law against bullying was introduced in both houses of the New Jersey Legislature Oct. 25 and given strong backing by a leading Jewish organization.
The proposal, which has already won bipartisan support in the State Senate and Assembly, would strengthen a 2002 law that protects victims only when the bullying causes a substantial disruption at their schools.
The new law would also require school personnel to take part in anti-bullying and suicide prevention training, discipline administrators who fail to act on bullying complaints on or off school property, and require school superintendents to make semi-annual reports on all acts of violence, bullying, intimidation, and harassment.
“This represents a significant step forward in protecting New Jersey’s schoolchildren from bullying and cyberbullying,” said Etzion Neuer, NJ regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Neuer referred to the death of Tyler Clementi, the gay Rutgers student who took his own life Sept. 22.
“The recent tragedy at Rutgers only serves to highlight the urgent need for legislators and educators to come together and make protecting children from bullying a priority,” Neuer said in a release.
The bill’s wording, like the 2002 law, protects all students against bullying or harassment based on “any actual or perceived characteristic of a student, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, disability, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other characteristic.”
“If implemented to its fullest, this bill will not only help protect children but also help change school culture to prevent bullying in the first place,” said Neuer, who has been working closely with legislators for the past year to draft the measure.
So, too, has Steven Goldstein, the Reconstructionist rabbinical student who chairs the gay rights organization Garden State Equality. Referring to Clementi’s death in a press release, Goldstein wrote, “We anticipated that a tragedy could happen. Nobody wishes we were correct.”
Within hours after its introduction in the Assembly on Oct. 25, Garden State Equality counted 43 supporters, beginning with its prime sponsors, Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Dist. 37) and Mary Pat Angelini (R-Dist. 11). Republicans on board include minority leader Alex DeCroce (Dist. 3) and Republican Conference Leader Jon Bramnick (Dist. 21.)
“That is an astoundingly high and significant number, as it takes 41 Assembly members to pass a bill. We are overjoyed,” said Goldstein’s release.
The State Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Dist. 18), Diane Allen (R-Dist. 7), and Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37), is also expected to win broad bipartisan support once it is introduced after Election Day.
According to a report in The Star-Ledger, Gov. Chris Christie said he would consider the bill if it has wide bipartisan support in the Legislature.