Michigan: Responsible Reporting in the Wake of Problematic Anti-Bullying Law

Following the passage of a controversial bill, Michigan media has largely denounced the measure and its inadequate support for bullying victims.

After much debate and apprehension, Michigan has passed Matt’s Safe School Law, an anti-bullying initiative that claims to protect the state’s youth from harassment. The legislation, named after Matt Epling, a victim of bullying, passed with a 26-11 majority last week. Although proponents of the bill claim its passage will deter bullying, many agree that the language of the law ultimately protects bullies and puts victims in greater danger.

Equality Michigan, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization opposing the measure, publicly expressed its disapproval:

“Shockingly, Senate Bill 137 will do more harm than good. Senate Republicans left our students behind in favor of partisan politics and passed a bill that actually allows more bullying. Students and parents expect lawmakers to lead the charge against bullying, but instead Republicans made ideology more important than school safety.”

The bill, unanimously opposed by all Democrats of the Republican-held Michigan Senate, does less to protect victims and more to safeguard their tormentors. It effectively defends bullying that is based in a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” Ultimately, the law stands on the side of the perpetrator and makes punishment for the bully illegal should his or her action be rooted in religious sentiment. Additionally, the measure fails to explicitly name high-risk victims making the bill increasingly ambiguous.

“Research clearly shows that only states with enumerated bills see a reduction in bullying. We need a bill that mentions the most affected populations and requires statewide reporting of bullying and harassment. SB 137 simply does nothing to reduce bullying in our schools,” Equality Michigan noted.

The bill should address the problem from a victim-centric angle and ensure all Michigan students a safe school environment. SB 137, bearing Matt’s name, fails the students of the state and makes bullying an acceptable and protected practice. Fortunately, this irony has been reported by the majority of Michigan media outlets. The coverage surrounding the passage of the bill has reflected its shortcomings and reported its harmfulness. GLAAD applauds the Michigan media for accurately framing the conversation around this issue and bringing the inadequacies of the bill to light.

Perhaps because of this responsible reporting, Jase Bolger, speaker of the Michigan House, announced today that he will review the bill and “bring everyone to the middle of the road and provide protection to all students.”