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Breaking news | Florida becomes 36th state to pass anti-bullying law

Equality Florida news release:

(Tallahassee) After eight years of effort on the part of hundreds of students, parents, educators and civil rights groups, the Florida Safe Schools Coalition celebrates the passage today of a statewide anti-bullying bill.

During today’s unanimous vote, Senators zeroed in on the issue of whether the broad

prohibition on bullying requires schools to address specific forms of harassment, including anti-gay bullying.

Senator Nan Rich asked, “Does the bill prohibit harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived disability, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, physical appearance, sexual orientation or other distinguishing personal characteristic in the exactly the same way that it prohibits sexual, racial or religious harassment, which are specified in the bill?”

Senator Baker, the bills sponsor responded, “Yes it does.”

In so doing, sponsors in the House and Senate made clear the legislative intent requires schools to ensure those protections at the local level.

“Today’s passage of the anti-bullying law represents the culmination of an eight-year effort by a strong coalition of over 100 organizations dedicated to the safety of Florida’s students,” said Nadine Smith, Executive Director for Equality Florida. “The legislature has made clear that any school that fails to prevent and respond to anti-gay bullying and to protect every student will be in violation of this law and will face consequences. We will hold them accountable.”

Rep. Nick Thompson sponsored the currnet bill in the House. Former Rep. Ken Gottlieb led the effort to pass similar legislation for six years, a critical period during which a pivotal transition occurred in the Florida Legislature. Thanks to the hundreds of students, parents, educators, youth advocates who traveled to Tallahassee year after year to push for this bill, lawmakers moved from a attitude of a “boys will be boys” to the recognition that bullying is a real problem in Florida’s schools.

"The PTA has been a proud member of the Florida Safe Schools Coalition for eight years and it has always been our top priority to not only pass a bill, but to pass a bill that protects every students," said Marilyn Spiegel, Legislative Chair and Former President of the Miami-Dade County PTA. "This law makes that promise to every parent in Florida."

Sen. Baker, the bill’s lead sponsor, put school districts on notice during the floor debate that they will be in violation of this law if they do not effectively confront all forms of bullying in their schools. Baker warned that the examples of harassment listed in the bill were not an exhaustive list and specifically highlighting anti-gay bullying as an issue that must be addressed under the bill.

The Florida Safe Schools Coalition includes students, parents, educators and safe school advocates from nearly 100 local and statewide organizations working to make every school in Florida a safe learning environment free of harassment, bullying and discrimination.

Equality Florida is Florida’s only statewide human rights organization dedicated to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Through education and advocacy, the organization is committed to building a state of equal rights for all Floridians, inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

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This bill had nothing to do with gays.

From our story the other day:

"Although the bill does not specify categories of students, legislators clarified that the law would prohibit harassment targeted at specific characteristics, such as disability, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation. ''The intent of this legislation is to protect all children from all types of bullying,'' said Sen. Carey Baker, a Eustis Republican and the bill's Senate sponsor.

Said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of gay-rights group Equality Florida: ``We believe that the sponsors have put districts on notice that they have to include protections for gay and transgendered students or they're breaking the law.''

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