Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
by Jessica Carreras
In 2009 so far, five youth in the United States have died due to bullying. It’s a harrowing statistic that leads the e-mails and messages that are bringing together people from all kinds of different groups to fight for a common cause: the safety of children.
Recently in Michigan, that cause has led to the first-ever All American Lobby Day, to be held at 9 a.m. May 13 in Lansing. There, the Democratic Party LGBT and Allies Caucus, along with other groups, will host a day of lobbying that begins with a training session at Teamsters Hall and moves to the Capitol Building for a press conference and other events. The day is in support of Senate Bill 159, which would protect Michigan students from bullying and enforce strict consequences for bullies. Currently, the bill sits in the Senate Committee on Education.
“This bill is about protecting children,” caucus leader and activist Phil Volk said simply.
Not so simple, however, is the battle that still rages on between SB 159 and Senate Bill 275.
The main difference between the two bills is enumeration, meaning a list of traits protected by the bill. While SB 159 has enumeration, listing such things as gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, weight and other factors, SB 275 does not. The issue that has divided both the LGBT community and supporters of each bill is which bill can both protect children and pass into law as quickly as possible. Supporters of SB 275 say that it stands a better chance of passing, while SB 159 advocates claim that it has the teeth the other bill lacks to get the job – stopping bullies – done.
During the legislative session in 2008, SB 275, which came out of the Education Committee as a truncated, passable version of SB 159, sat poised to be voted on. However, it was shot down at the last minute and forced to be reintroduced in the next session.
Early this year, both bills were reintroduced in the Senate within the same month, and the differences between them have resulted in a split in supporters.
Within the LGBT community, the Triangle Foundation has been the main backer of SB 275, while Volk, along with Michigan Equality and several other LGBT organizations, have fought for SB 159.
Though the Triangle Foundation usually holds an annual Safe Schools Lobby Day, this year’s event was postponed and has not yet been rescheduled.
Triangle, along with Michigan Equality and many other supporters of SB 159, will be present at the upcoming lobby day, hosted by Volk’s team. However, Triangle Executive Director Alicia Skillman said she feels that having two lobby days may hurt the overall cause. “We want the same thing, and I think we can get there without jeopardizing our relationships in Lansing,” she said. “Having this second lobby day causes some tension there.”
Still, though the lobby day is being presented as specifically pushing for the enumerated bill, Skillman said that she felt it was important for her organization have a presence. “Any attempt to protect kids in Michigan schools, Triangle will definitely be there,” she maintained. “It’s not our place to tell groups when and how they can gather and have lobbying events.”
Skillman explained that their continued support of SB 275 would not hinder them from backing up their colleagues. “We’re not participating to set one bill against the other, but just to show that we do support a law that should be made to do something about bullying in Michigan,” she said. “Our presence there just means we want something done about bullying and we’re supporting our partners.”
Volk agreed, but said that he hopes the battle between the two bills will not come up at his lobbying day. “If there’s any conflict, I’m sure we can deal with it as it comes,” he said. “I think we had to invite (the Triangle Foundation). But if they come up and want to talk about the other bill and not support ours, we’ll have to discuss it.”
Skillman, who still stands by SB 275, added, “If there were some way to get an enumerated bill passed, Triangle would certainly support it. However, with the present Senate, it seems impossible.”
Volk and his team seem to think differently, and plan to show their support for SB 159 at the All American Lobby Day, as well as to educate people about the importance of enumeration at their press conference. The press conference will include several senators who are on board with the bullying bill, including Sen. Glenn Anderson (D-Westland). Anderson is the lead sponsor for SB 159, but has also said that he does support SB 275 as a way to get the ball rolling quicker on anti-bullying legislation.
According to Volk, supporters at the lobby day will include members of the African-American, Latino, veterans and disability communities, as well as heavy representation from the LGBT community. He explained that the main point they hope to make by their presence is that the bill with enumeration specifically protects all children – not just LGBT kids. “This bill is not an LGBT bill,” he said. “It has LGBT in it, but it’s broader than that. Much broader. It’s all-American – if affects every minority group and every major group.”
Volk added that he felt that previous lobbying day efforts focused too heavily on the LGBT community, distancing influential anti-bullying allies in both the legislature and in community supporters. “The problem that we’ve always had in the past is that we try to make this Matt’s Law or an LGBT law and some people within our community try to make it pivot around us,” he said. “This is not an LGBT thing. If LGBT groups want to join us, we’re happy to have them there, as long as they’re supporting the bill we’re supporting.”
The move away from the LGBT focus, said Volk, aims to attract supporters from the Republican side, who have been difficult for anti-bullying lobbyists to woo. More than a strategy, he claimed the transition was common sense. “It’s not a strategy, it’s just a fact,” Volk said. “Why are we looking at this as an LGBT issue? It’s everybody’s issue. To try to claim it as ours is a little bit arrogant. It’s not us. It’s everybody.”
All American Lobby Day
9 a.m.-3 p.m. May 13
Teamsters Hall, 5800 Executive Drive, Lansing