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Mich. state senator locks himself in opponent’s office to argue for bullying legislation

A heated battle on the floor of the Michigan Senate Thursday morning left State Sen. John Gleason (D-Flushing) so outraged that he spent Thursday night locked in the office of Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing).

In an interview with Michigan Messenger, Gleason announced he plans to carry the protest on into Friday and is calling on citizens to join him Friday night in the Capitol as well to protest the Republican-dominated Senate’s failure to pass a long-delayed anti-bullying measure.

“I made the decision when the other side was laughing as they got up to explain their ‘no’ votes,” said Gleason. “That’s supposed to be the family values and Christians?”

During debate on a to bill lift the cap on the number of charter schools in the state, Democrats offered up amendments to the state school code that would mandate anti-bullying policies in the schools. The first amendment, offered by Sen. Glenn Anderson of Westland would have amended state law to include enumerated protected classes required in school policies statewide. Democrats tend to favor the enumeration legislation, saying that by identifying protected classes they are protecting all schoolchildren.

The second amendment was an offer to use legislation favored by Republican lawmakers which would simply bar all bullying.

Both amendments were shot down, while the charter cap legislation was ultimately passed.

“The reason I am doing this is I know people, I have had family members tell me they were abused. I’ve known too many kids who were bullied,” Gleason said.

Michigan is one of only three states without some sort of statewide anti-bullying law. Activists have been trying to get the state legislature to pass a law for nearly a decade, but have never been able to get a bill approved by both chambers.

Kevin Epling, whose son Matt committed suicide following a brutal bullying incident in East Lansing, says the Senate is “failing” the youth of the state.

“We are failing our kids in such a blatant way,” Epling said. “We deserve to be one of the last states with a law.”

Any anti-bullying legislation that might be passed would be named Matt’s Law after Epling’s son. Epling has since become a vocal advocate against bullying, giving speeches at schools across the country, and recently participating in a White House Conference on Bullying in D.C.

“While Senator Gleason sat in his office in protest of the disgraceful way that senators reacted to yesterday’s efforts by Democratic senators to pass anti-bullying legislation, I fear that the laughter that came from conservative legislators on the Senate floor in response to the efforts may have continued when the senators arrived home,” said Emily Dievendorf, policy director at Equality Michigan. “Senators Gleason and Anderson look at legislating with the welfare of our kids in mind, recognizing that we need to address bullying and address it now because our kids are just not making it when we force them to fend for themselves… Unfortunately, the Senate was dominated by the testimony of legislators that allowed their biases to trump attempts to save our kids. Conservative senators have now set the standard for bullying. They taught the younger generation of bullies how it’s done.”

Gleason may soon not be alone in his protest. Epling and Equality Michigan Executive Director Denise Brogan-Kator both have called on people to join the senator in his Friday night sit in.

“Senator Gleason supported enumerated anti-bullying legislation yesterday, and chose to stay in his office last night, because he cannot in good conscience stand by while other legislators permit the existence of a learning environment that is excluding and killing our kids,” Brogan-Kator said. “I have expressed Equality Michigan’s support for Senator Gleason’s protest and will stand with him Friday night as he continues to bring attention to the legislature’s brazen dismissal of their responsibility to Michigan’s children.”

“I would call on any citizen who is available to join Sen. Gleason Friday night,” said Epling who is rearranging his work commitments to join the protest for a period. “I also encourage people to call, visit, email their senators. Particularly the constituents of those senators who made a mockery of this issue. The citizenry has to rise up and say this is the time. They need to make it happen.”

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