Vagueness takes the lunch money out of bullying bills

Ken Gottlieb is getting bullied around in Florida legislature.

Gottlieb, a state representative from Hollywood, has been trying for the past six years to get support for his anti-bullying bill, which calls for a ban on the harassment of students based on specific factors, such as race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

It has never come close to being passed, and this year should be no different, according to Bully Police USA founder Brenda High, who said, ”I’ve monitored these bills around the country for years, and the ones with victim definitions really struggle to get passed.”

But in this case, or any other, “victim definitions” is really just one “victim definition”: sexual orientation. There is no problem with protecting Jews, blacks, or anyone else who faces constant ridicule. But gays, apparently, are fair game. Leave it to elected lawmakers to shiver in their boots like their lunch money is about to get taken by the big bad constituent bully when confronted with the issue of protecting gays.

A shame, then, that Rep. Ellen Bogdanoff’s competing anti-bullying bill, which-surprise, surprise-does not specifically categorize the groups to which bullying is so common, is likely to pass in the same legislative session. Bogdanoff was one of the many lawmakers to vote down Gottlieb’s bill last year. Certainly, the fact that her bill has a good chance to become a law is a good thing; bullying is a serious issue that can carry long-term effects for those picked on, or worse, lead to full-scale violent retribution. But why are we remiss when factoring “likelihood of passing” into our support (or opposition) to a bill? It seems presumptuous of Brenda High to support Bogdanoff’s law, and not Gottlieb’s, simply because it has a higher likelihood of passing. Isn’t it odd for someone to not support all anti-bullying laws when she is apparently SO anti-bullying that she founded a group to prevent it?

The real fear is what could potentially be a result: A student, harassed based on his or her sexual orientation, not being protected by state law, simply out of a law’s vagueness.

It’s a scary situation-more so than being cornered by a bully.