Bullying bill worth developing

Despite agreement across Pennsylvania that bullying in schools is a problem that needs much more preventive action, it is hard to imagine that proposals being prepared by state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown, will achieve passage without formidable challenges.

It is reasonable to wonder how much being envisioned by Burns on the bullying front will ever be released from committee, once consideration of proposed provisions begin.

Then there is the point that bullying is an issue much more complex and far-reaching than many people realize. Because of that, there’s cause for pessimism whether there will be enough time left in the current legislative session to wade through the complexities.

If passage isn’t achieved during the current session, which ends in December 2020, Burns’ effort would have to start anew when the subsequent legislative session is called to order.

All that is not to imply that Burns should abandon his effort; his goals are laudable, despite raising some possible constitutional concerns.

The best advice for him would be to continue to prepare his legislative package. Progress on an issue cannot be achieved without something for the two houses of the state General Assembly to begin discussing and dissecting, to try to assemble the best legislation possible.

Some people already have commented to Burns that his proposals might be unconstitutional, including one proposal calling for fines for parents in response to a bullying infraction committed by a son or daughter. However, there is no way to ascertain that for sure until lawmakers have proposed legislative language before them.

One of the bills Burns is proposing would set up a three-tiered system for responding to reports of bullying. A separate proposal would center on a “Pennsylvania Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” building upon this state’s Safe2Say anonymous violence and bullying reporting program, which was implemented statewide last year through the state Attorney General’s Office.

The Bullying Bill of Rights would define parents’ right to know if their child is involved in bullying, and also provide parents with regular updates dealing with investigations. In addition, the measure would require school districts to more thoroughly track and investigate incidents of bullying and report meaningful bullying statistics to the state Department of Education.

But it is the provision regarding possibly fining parents for bullying carried out by sons and daughters — or require that parents perform community service — that might “deep-six” what Burns is hoping to achieve, although Burns is quick to point out that it is not unconstitutional for parents to be fined for truancy.

Even if an anti-bullying measure reaches the House floor that deviates from Burns’ current thinking, the Cambria lawmaker will be able to feel a sense of satisfaction that his leadership probably made a difference on an issue of such importance and concern.

The issue should be weighed at hearings prior to legislative committee discussion in Harrisburg, to gather public input, including comments from students. Whether work on the issue can be completed during this legislative session is secondary to getting the best bill possible passed.

Again, this issue is complex and needs to be regarded as such in whatever way the Legislature chooses to proceed.


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