Brian Sims Touts Bipartisanship in Anti-Bullying Bill: “No Longer a Wedge Issue”
Last week, it was reported that state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia), the first openly-gay-elected member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, had been urging his fellow House members to support House Bill 156, anti-bullying legislation known as the Pennsylvania Safe Schools (PASS) Act.
“As many of you can imagine, as a member of the LGBT community myself, such measures are something that I am particularly attuned to,” he wrote in an email to his Democratic colleagues. “The fact remains that young members of the LGBT community (or those perceived to be) are bullied and otherwise discriminated against at alarming rates. Every study that looks to analyze the impact of bullying has shown there to be lasting, and extremely detrimental effects that can stay with a person for a lifetime.”
Less reported, though—and perhaps as important—is who has jumped onto the PASS Act as co-sponsors: Lots of Republicans.
“I felt like a major change following the last election cycle wasn’t that there was going to be a ground swell of LGBT Democrats—that support has always been there and has always been strong,” Sims tells Philadelphia Weekly. “But what we’re really beginning to see is the Republican Party get on this issue.”
Among the 67 co-sponsors of the bill are not just Sims and members of the LGBT caucus (like Reps. Dan Frankel and Mike Sturla), but several Republicans, including Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Blair), who recently announced, publicly, that he is gay; and fellow Republicans Dan Truitt (R-Chester; the prime sponsor of the bill); Mario Scavello (R-Monroe); Todd Rock (R-Franklin; great name, dude!); and Justin Simmons (R-Lehigh).
“[Anti-bullying legislation is] no longer a wedge issue,” Sims continues. “I think we’re seeing that Republicans who we know have always had LGBT family members, have always had LGBT co-workers and certainly had experience, themselves, with bullying.”
The PASS Act, already endorsed by Equality PA and the SEIU, would amend the Public School Code of 1949, by “further providing for program of continuing professional education; and, in safe schools, further providing for definitions, for reporting and for policy relating to bullying and providing for powers and duties of Department of Education.”
Among those amendments would be the definition of bullying to be “any written, verbal or physical conduct,” related to a characteristic like race, color, religion, “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity,” among other things. The bill also includes a definition of “cyberbullying,” school-sponsored events, and electronic communication.
The bill itself would attempt to train educators on preventing bullying in a school setting, as well as creating new guidelines for reporting such bullying in schools.
“Especially following Matthew Shepard, we saw a whole bunch of states pass anti-bullying legislation, which I call ‘toothless bills,’” says Sims. “They didn’t specifically enumerate the classes of people that need to be protected. They didn’t have reporting requirements, they didn’t have time frames on reports, they didn’t say what needed to be included in reports and I think this is very different. This bill protects those people from bullying and it will actually curb bullying—not just lend it lip service.”
The PASS Act was referred to the House Education Committee on January 23. There is no word, yet, on when it may come up for a vote.