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New York state Senate passes anti-bullying bill

From Julie Cannold, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bill includes sexual orientation, transgendered
  • Bill passes senate with only 3 votes opposed, all Republicans
  • Opposed senator says bill should have included private schools
  • Gov. David Paterson is expected to sign the bill into law

New York (CNN) -- The New York state senate passed passed an anti-bullying bill Tuesday night to protect all students from discrimination, including that based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

The state assembly had already passed the bill -- as it had eight times previously in the last 11 years -- and Gov. David Paterson is expected to sign it into law. Bill sponsor Sen. Thomas Duane said it will be "the first time protections for our transgendered community will be enshrined in New York law."

"The language included protections based not just on sexual orientation but also gender identity and expression," said Duane, "and unfortunately there was resistance to being inclusive of people of transgender experience and generally the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community."

But a spokesman for Sen. Dale Volker, one of three Republicans to vote against the bill in the otherwise bipartisan 58-3 vote, denied that his "no" vote had anything to do with gender identity or sexual orientation.

"No one wants children to be bullied," said C.D. Miller, Volker's spokesman. "It's an inequitable bill. It only protected children from bullying in public schools and did not afford students who attend other schools like Catholic, Lutheran or Jewish schools the same protection."

Courts have generally ruled that government cannot make laws pertaining to the internal workings of private schools, particularly religious schools.

The "Dignity for All Students Act" calls on school officials to address bullying and bias-related harassment of all kinds that interfere with student safety and learning.

With the bill, New York joins only a handful of other states with an "enumerated" anti-bullying bill, meaning that it specifically lists the types of bullying and discrimination it covers. New York's bill bans harassment of students by employees and other students while on school property, prohibits discrimination based on race, color, weight, nationality, ethnic group, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender and requires the reporting of bias related incidents to the state Education Department.

Right wing organizations like the American Family Association have lobbying against the bill and others like it, arguing its enumeration of the types of bullying prohibited make bullying a "thought crime."

In addition, the bill requires schools to develop guidelines to be used in school training programs to discourage discrimination and to incorporate harassment awareness and sensitivity training into the education curriculum.

"No child should be terrified to go to school simply because of who they are. There is no place for bullying and discrimination in New York's classrooms," said Duane.

The bill had passed in the New York State Assembly nine times according to New York State Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, who sponsored the bill in the Assembly.

"Every student deserves an environment free of harassment and discrimination, an environment that allows every child to reach his or her full potential." said Rep. Daniel O'Donnell, who sponsored the bill in the assembly.

CNN's Vivienne Foley contributed to this report.

 
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