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Democrats, advocates rail against rejection of bill aimed at school bullying

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PHOENIX – A Democratic leader who authored a bill aimed at curbing bullying in Arizona schools said a conservative group’s lobbyist engineered the measure’s demise.

“This bill about bullying was killed by someone who was not elected, someone who did not testify during committee, someone who didn’t even sign in a position for or against,” said Sen. David Schapira, D–Tempe, the Senate minority leader and a candidate for Congress.

Among other provisions, SB 1462 would require school employees to complete training to recognize when bullying has occurred and how to react and require districts to provide students with documentation of their rights. Policies against bullying could include incidents that occur off campus that are reported to officials and create a hostile environment at school for victims.

The bill passed the Senate last week on a 16–12 vote but wasn’t assigned to a House committee in time to be heard.

At a news conference Thursday, Schapira and anti-bullying advocates pointed at Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy.

Schapira said Herrod persuaded GOP leaders in the Senate to hold the bill for three weeks and then persuaded the House GOP leadership to not assign it to a committee.

He said he was told that Herrod considered the measure “a back door gay bill.”

In a written response to Schapira’s allegations, Herrod said the Legislature passed a bill last year that adequately addresses the issue of bullying in schools and that Schapira’s bill is simply an effort to spread political propaganda to schoolchildren.

“Parents send their kids to school for reading, writing and arithmetic, not to be exposed to propaganda,” Herrod’s statement said. “There simply is no need at this time to expand current law addressing bullying.”

Schapira said there is an unacknowledged problem with children and young teens committing suicide because they are harassed and bullied at school.

“The bullying laws in this state are insufficient,” he said. “This bill would be different. This bill would have every school in the state offering training to their teachers, the administrators, so they could learn how to recognize bullying and how to deal with it.”

Nicole France Stanton, an attorney and wife of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, advocated for the bill in committee. At the news conference, she said she was disgusted to see the bill stall.

“We are going to be back here next year even though this bill is dead for this year,” she said, “and we are more determined than ever.”