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< Legislating on all cylinders | Main | Here's the pitch... >

Where's the fight?

Posted at 11:52 AM on March 7, 2007 by Bob Collins (5 Comments)

I know Republicans got their rears kicked in November and while they kicked Republicans out of office in large numbers in Minnesota and elsewhere, until today I didn't realize they kicked the Republicanism out of the Republicans who survived.

Look, I'm all in favor of bipartisanship and all that. But a lot of folks think bipartisanship means "do it my way." And when the DFL is in charge at the Capitol, maybe Republicans don't have any choice.

But maybe they should look like they're putting up a fight as the, you know, loyal opposition.

The Senate this year has been a virtual love-fest. The leaders seem to like each other and they even made a big deal about going bowling. While it's an improvement over the acrimony of recent years, is that really what the political process is supposed to involve?

This morning, the Senate passed SF646, a piece of legislation that requires school districts to formulate a policy on bullying. For the record, I agree with the legislation. I've seen, firsthand, what bullying can do to kids. I'm aware that the incidents of school shootings almost always have their roots in bullying. So put me down as a "yes" vote.

But that's not the part of the bill that caught my attention. It was this:

The policy shall address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms involving Internet use.

Come again?

I watched the Senate Education Committee testimony on this a week or so ago and while there was some rumblings from the minority party about such things as how a school committee can possibly police the off-school-premises and off-school-hours activities of students, squirreled away in their rooms at home... banging away on the Internet, for the most part the response was "we'll let the school boards figure that out."

Better, put a copy of the U.S. Constitution in the envelope that holds this latest mandate from St. Paul, something else -- mandates -- that used to get Republicans up in arms.

When this bill was filed, I think I wrote here that I couldn't wait for the floor debate. The role of government, free speech rights, mandates, parental responsibility -- man, it was all there. I looked forward to a spirted and vigorous debate, just like the old days.

Except that things have changed in St. Paul. The folks that used to lead that debate -- the Bachmanns and Leclairs and Krinkies and Reiters are gone, and the old-timers left seem too tired to put up a fight. In the House, Rep. Marty Seifert has tried to whip up his troops -- mostly on the per diem debate -- but the one legislator there who's waged the philosophical battle of the role of government, has been Rep. Mark Olson; he was kicked out of the Republican caucus late last year.

While I applaud civility, I'm concerned that this new spirit of "bipartisanship" makes it too easy to pass legislation. It shouldn't be. It should be hard. Legislation should be questioned. It should survive -- or die -- on its ability to make sense, on its strength of purpose. A spirited debate is not a food fight. It makes us all more informed. It makes us think a little more about what we're doing.

Maybe this legislation could survive such questioning and inspection. But it didn't have to. When it came up on the Senate floor today, it generated not a single remark and was passed. This might, in fact, be the best piece of legislation ever. But it will generate a ton of questions once this gets to your local school board.

The first one will be one more than it generated at the Capitol.

Points on the measure to Sens. Moua; Torres Ray; Scheid; Saltzman; Limmer

Comments (5)

On the bullying via internet or instant messaging. I know of a family in southwestern MN, whose son was accused of making terroristic threats by his school when they found out he had written a 14 yr-old x-girlfriend, that when he sees her new boyfriend, he feels like hitting him. Have no idea how it turned out, but he was made to stay home for a while, etc., as the school tried to decide what should happen to him.

Posted by Carolie Thurston | March 7, 2007 6:49 PM

My guess is that there are some bills sailing through the committee process without much opposition because BOTH parties are gearing up for some fierce debate on the House and Senate Floors where media attention will be be more intensive.

Posted by mike simpkins | March 8, 2007 10:22 AM

Well, keep in mind that yesterday's silence WAS on the Senate floor. It's done. There's no more chance to debate it.

If a similar bill passes the House, the folks who'll have to figure out will be school boards, and parents and kids who get to test what it means. Because they got no direction from the lawmakers on what it means, and the absence of debate means that any opportunity we -- the great unwashed -- got to understand the bill was denied to us.

And you know it'll end up in court in some school district so then the parents and school boards get to figure out what the heck it means what scope of government involvement the legislature intended.

But, like I said, it's impossible for me to believe that Republicans let this bill pass without a single utterance, given the elements of it that require clarification.

Not sure what's going on here, but I'm glad I'm not on a school committee somewhere, and I'm glad my kids are out of school.

I would suggest a bill that has no specifics, has little meaning. And this is an area that meaning -- and teeth -- are neccessary.

Sure, I'm disappointed the media didn't do anything with this bill. But if the senators weren't interested enough to discuss it, I can't really expect reporters to be.

Posted by Bob Collins | March 8, 2007 10:28 AM

Bob, I stand corrected regarding SF646. You're right, it appears to be a done deal and I agree that it looks like a really vague piece of legislation that has the potential to cause some huge headaches for local school districts.

Posted by mike simpkins | March 8, 2007 11:28 AM

By the way, this morning the Senate -- meeting as the Committee of the Whole -- spent more time discussing naming a stretch of some highway in Duluth after Walter Mondale than it did on this bill.

Posted by Bob Collins | March 8, 2007 11:40 AM