Gov. Stitt vetoes anti-bullying bill

Mike Seals - May 12, 2021 11:23 pm

Says ‘the potential for unintended consequences is considerable’


OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An attempt to expand the statute against bullying in the state of Oklahoma was vetoed Tuesday by Gov. Kevin Stitt, who said in a letter that it’s understandable, but the expansion’s “potential for unintended consequences is considerable.”

Lawmakers said it was a parent-led bill that they were surprised wasn’t signed into law. The bill expanded the definition of bullying to a more widely and nationally used definition.

Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, said the standard definition is a “pattern of having aggressive behavior against a student.” The expanded definition in the bill has that same statement but adds “any one-time incident that has potential to lead to an ongoing pattern of bullying.”

“The intent behind that is you want to try to intervene early on, before a situation becomes serious,” Pae said. “It was a good piece of legislation overall when it comes to helping kids.”

“I’m very surprised it didn’t pass,” Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, said. “It was good legislation.”

Photo goes with story
Cara O’Daniel and her son.

“The definition of bullying that was put into this bill was the CDC’s legal definition of bullying, which is used pretty universally nationally,” said Cara O’Daniel, a mom whose son experienced bullying at 16 years old.

O’Daniel said she is an educator and major advocate for the bill. She said her son experienced bullying and was forced to transfer schools.

“School resource offices in the school district weren’t aligned on how to handle things, a lot of things being brushed under the rug,” O’Daniel said. “It was really bad for his mental health.”

“If anybody would have an issue with it, I would imagine it would be school administrators, because it seems to put a little bit more on their plate,” Rosecrants said. “But nobody came against it even from that angle.”

The bill mentions training and other anti-bullying activities for students, staff and administrators. Another point in the bill was to make sure it gets reported by teachers with no repercussions. Rosecrants, a former educator, said this is a big issue.

“I ran into teachers where I was teaching before who would be like, ‘I’m not sure that’s bullying, but I don’t want to report it because I don’t want to get, ‘Oh, you don’t have classroom management skills’ or something like that,’” he said.

Stitt’s full letter can be read below. In part, it stated that “relatively minor offenses could be met with disproportionate consequences.” Also, that “overzealous authorities” could take innocent behavior as bullying.

“I thought it had a great balance within it,” Rosecrants said.

Even with the veto, lawmakers said this is not the last you will see of a bill like this.

“In order to advance good, solid policy, I think we visit this type of legislation next session,” Pae said.

“A bullying situation affects the whole family, not just a student, not just a single isolated event; it affects their whole well-being,” O’Daniel said.

The bill would also have required teachers or administrators who learned of a student with suicidal thoughts to report it to the students’ parents that same day. O’Daniel said she’s hoping their will be more guidance on how they can all work together on the bill in the future. According to Pae, laws with expanded definitions of bullying per the national standard have been passed in neighboring states like Kansas and Missouri.

Photo goes with story
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s letter on Senate Bill 222.



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