- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - It took more than 10 years, several proposals and countless stories from young people who have suffered, but on Tuesday, Montana joined every other state in the nation with an anti-bullying law.

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock signed the Bully Free Montana Act at Jefferson Elementary School in Helena. Bill sponsor Rep. Kim Dudik, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, students and their families joined Bullock for the signing of House Bill 284.

“I am pleased that Montana will finally have a bullying-prevention law,” Bullock said. “All too often, we’ve heard bullying is just a part of growing up. … We know that isn’t the case. They (students) just don’t have to put up with that type of behavior.”

The new law defines bullying as any repeated harassment, hazing or threatening in person, or in writing including electronic communication. As proposed, it would have directed public school districts to adopt certain policies addressing the issue of bullying. The final version simply prohibits students and teachers from bullying any student in a public K-12 school. It does not explicitly refer to cyberbullying, but the law would forbid it under the general bullying ban.

Parents and local authorities can also go after bullies, schools or education officials who break the law.

“A safe environment forms the foundation for a quality learning experience, and that’s really what this bill is about,” Juneau said. “I want every child to feel safe at school, and this new law helps bring us closer to that goal.”

Lawmakers have been trying to pass some form of the measure since 2003, with mostly Republican opponents saying it would infringe on school districts’ ability to enact local rules.

Forty-six of the 49 states that have established bullying laws did so by 2010. Hawaii, Michigan and South Dakota were the last to make changes, leaving Montana as the only state that hadn’t addressed the issue with legislation.

Thirty-eight percent of Montana seventh and eighth graders have said they are being bullied, while 26 percent of high school students said they are being bullied, Dudik said.

“Finally Montana has a law that says bullying is not OK,” said Dudik, Democrat from Missoula. “It’s been a long time coming, and we’ve finally gotten it done.”

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