Appropriations Committee releases $1 million anti-bullying bill

TRENTON – The Assembly Appropriations Committee released a bill that calls for $1 million for schools for the remainder of this fiscal year to put in place bullying prevention programs and anti-bullying training programs.

Last week, Gov. Chris Christie said he would appropriate money for the anti bullying program, after the Council on Local Mandates in January ruled the prior version as an unfunded mandate. The Legislature had 60 days since to amend the law.

The bill, A2709, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. She testified that the bill is intended to “save the anti-bullying Bill of Rights.”

“It provides funding and a process to provide guidance,” she said. “We cannot have the alternative of taking the law off the books.”

The bill also calls for providing training to school employees and volunteers, and a school district may use programs and training that may be available at no cost from the Department of Education, the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, or any other entity.

A school district must apply to the Department of Education for a grant from the Bullying Prevention Fund to support providing out-of-district services if the necessary programs and services are not available within the district, the bill states.

John Tomicki of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage opposed the bill. He said he doesn’t see the purpose of a task force, saying it would be very limited.

“You should extend the commission so there’s more balance,” he said. “None of us come here supporting bullying.”

New Jersey Family First also opposed the bill, saying there would be problems with how it’s administered, especially the language about districts exhausting its free resources. The group added the funding might be insufficient.

The New Jersey School Boards Association supports the bill, saying it will help cover costs school districts incur.

The New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association also supports the bill, saying it would help provide a safe learning environment.

Under the bill, an Anti-Bulling Task Force would be set up of seven people who have background in, or special knowledge of, the legal, policy, educational, social, or psychological aspects of bullying in public schools.

The members would be appointed by the Senate President; the Assembly Speaker; one jointly by the Senate President and the Speaker of the General Assembly; and four by the Governor.

The task force will prepare a report within 180 days of its organizational meeting, and annually for the following three years, on the effectiveness of the act in addressing bullying in schools. The report will be submitted to the commissioner, to the Governor, and to the Legislature, and the task force will expire upon the submission of its final report.

Appropriations Committee releases $1 million anti-bullying bill