East Lansing resident Kevin Epling hopes that a new Michigan anti-bullying law goes further in the Michigan legislature than others in the past.
Senate Bill 137 is now out of Senate Judiciary Committee and will go to the Senate floor sometime this fall, said the bill sponsor Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge.
“The difference between this bill and past bills is that it will include every child,” Jones said. “It doesn’t include specific groups, like others in the past that included specific language for overweight students or gay students. This bill doesn’t exclude people.”
Jones said the legislation will require all Michigan schools to have an anti-bullying policy.
The bill is also known as “Matt’s Safe School Law,” named after Matt Epling, Kevin Epling’s son.
“In 2002 our son Matthew was assaulted by upperclassmen as a ‘welcome to high school hazing.’ This affected Matt deeper than what we thought,” Epling said. “The night before we were to talk with police about formal charges, Matt took his own life. We decided to be vocal about what happened and have worked to make change and that begins with education and awareness of the issues.”
The first bills aiming to end bullying in Michigan schools were introduced in 1999, but none have been signed into law.
Epling said there have been so many different excuses over the years to prevent the law, and every time one excuse is corrected, another takes its place.
The only three states that don’t have anti-bullying laws are Michigan, Montana and South Dakota, Epling said.
“There has been much opposition to the bills from Republican leaders,” Epling said. “Even after the language was changed and removed, Republican lawmakers still would not pass the law in 2009 and had another chance in 2011 to do the same. Why are our lawmakers going to wait until we lose more children to suicide, or worse, wait for a major school shooting, before they act on this issue?”
Because the language of the bill has changed, people such as Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, expect it to be passed and signed into law.
“We did not think it was necessary or positive to segregate students in special classes,” Glenn said. “In states such as Iowa, anti-bullying laws with specific language that included gay students can set a precedent for homosexual marriage.”
Jones said while the bill isn’t perfect, it’s a good start and he has not seen too much opposition from anyone yet.