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Bully bill an early Mother's Day gift
Bully bill an early Mother's Day gift
by Lisa Neff - Courtesy of

Mother's Day arrived early in the Sunshine State.

Last week, the Florida Legislature passed an anti-bullying bill named for the late Jeff Johnston and advocated by his mother, Debbie, who believes that her son wouldn't have committed suicide at the age of 15 if he had been protected from bullies in school.

This measure isn't the kind of gift to be wrapped and presented over Sunday brunch, but it brings heartfelt comfort to Debbie Johnston and other moms.

My mother likes to tell a story about sending her kids off to school. Ours is a school family - my sister is a teacher, my two brothers work for colleges, my mom worked for a school district and my dad only recently retired from four decades teaching and coaching. Perhaps because she knew the ins and outs of the education system, my mom cried on the first day of school for each her children. She was afraid for us - kids can be kind, and kids can be cruel; educators can respond and educators can turn away.

As I've confessed previously, I was sometimes cruel - a bully - in junior high. But also, in high school, harassed for being different.

Bullying and other forms of harassment are the rule and not the exception in America's schools. Research indicates that between 30 percent and 60 percent of American schoolchildren report being bullied. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's "school climate survey" has found that four out of five GLBT students hear homophobic remarks at school, that 39 percent of GLBT students report being verbally or physically assaulted and that one out of three GLBT students skipped school in the past month because they were simply too afraid to go.

Florida's legislation would require the state's 67 school districts to adopt policies by December 1 to prohibit bullying or harassment of any student or school employee for any reason.

National attention turned to the push for Florida's anti-bullying bill earlier this year, when a videotape of several teenage girls beating another girl in Lakeland, Fla., appeared on the internet.

The legislative votes on the bill, first in the state house and then the senate, earned excellent marks - and praising remarks - from GLBT civil rights advocates.

The state's overall grade on GLBT rights won't yet earn any diplomas, let alone a valedictorian ranking. This year, Florida voters are facing a campaign to amend the state constitution to ban recognition of same-sex marriage, which already is banned by law. Gays in Florida cannot adopt children. The state lacks employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. No valedictorian status for Florida on Gay rights.

That said, GLBT civil rights activists saw rays of hope in the Sunshine State last week. Many are certain Gov. Charlie Crist, a republican who often seems more liberal than many of the state's democrats, will sign the measure into law.

Passage of the anti-bullying bill was in the lesson plan for Equality Florida, a state GLBT civil rights group, for the past eight years, and other groups in the Florida Safe Schools Coalition.

The bills passage likely won't have any impact for the students in the 2007-08 school year. They are close enough to the end of the semester to count the days and minutes to the final bell of this year. But the Florida students who make up the scholastic class of 2009 will thank the lawmakers who made up the legislative class of 2008.

This month, Jeff Johnston - a skilled chess player with big brown eyes and a charisma to "change the world," according to mom - should be graduating from high school. He's not, but the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act has graduated from the state House to the governor's desk.

And that should provide some comfort to moms - and dads - who send their kids off to school with fears about whether they'll fit in, whether they'll excel, whether they'll be bullied or teased or taunted - because kids can be kind and kids can be cruel. by Tim Peter - SGN Staff Writer

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire kicked off her re-election campaign on Monday, July 28, at the Seattle Westin Hotel. New Mexico Governor and former presidential candidate Bill Richardson headlined the fundraiser of almost 1,300 Gregoire supporters, which raised more than $300,000.

Gregoire adopted the slogan, "Taking on challenges, getting results," and that was the focus of her speech on Monday. She emphasized the positive changes she had brought about since becoming governor in 2004, including making record investments in education, expanding children's healthcare and creating a constitutionally protected Rainy Day Fund.

"When I was elected in 2004, there were just 12 road projects complete; now there are 130 finished," she proclaimed. In 2006, Gregoire signed into law the first statewide anti-discrimination bill for GLBT people of Washington, which took a 30-year fight in the legislature before gaining enough votes to become law. She also signed the state's first Domestic Partnership law in 2007 and another law greatly expanding those rights in 2008.

Another area Gregoire has emphasized is education. She said that when the Dalai Lama visited Seattle last month, he thanked her for her efforts in early childhood education. She added that all Washington children on the free lunch program will be eligible for four-year scholarships to state universities. Additionally, she has increased teacher pay while reducing class size and doubled the number of student internships since taking office.

She has also focused on the state's economy by creating an $890 million surplus, up from $2.2 billion when she took over in January, 2005. She said the state has also doubled its amount of exports during her tenure, from $33 billion in 2004 to $67 billion last year. She helped to create 290,000 new family wage jobs since becoming governor, and last year the state had the lowest unemployment rate in its history. She said that both Forbes and Fortune magazines recently ranked Washington as the fifth best state in which to do business.

Gregoire also touted her record of creating 25,000 new jobs in the "green economy," or jobs that are environmentally conscious. "Washington is leading the state and the nation for global climate changes," she said.

"When I ran for governor in 2004, I said I would listen to the people of Washington and serve them like never before," she said. "Now it's time to show results."

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