TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A law against bullying in schools, which advocates call the nation's toughest because it requires schools to develop anti-harassment programs, was approved Monday in New Jersey.
The state General Assembly and Senate both passed the bill overwhelmingly and sent it to the desk of Republican Gov. Chris Christie. He said Monday night that he hadn't read the bill but that the state's lawyers have raised concerns over whether its provisions infringe on constitutional rights. He did not say whether he would sign it.
The bill would require anti-bullying programs in public schools and language in college codes of conduct to address bullying. Schools would have to form teams to shape policies and review how bullying is handled.
The bill had been in the works for 10 months but gained attention after the high-profile suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi in September. He killed himself after his roommate allegedly spied on his liaison with a man on a webcam. Clementi's family said in a statement that it welcomed the bill.
Many of the same measures are suggested, but not required, under a state anti-bullying that's been on the books since 2002.
Lawmakers say it quickly became apparent that the original bill wasn't doing enough to stop bullying, which is increasingly seen as a major problem for young people, especially online, where it's harder for the victims to get away from harassment.
Bullying of gay youth has gotten a lot of attention, but the bill pertains to students picked on for a number of reasons.
"My vote today was for any child who has gone home in tears because he or she was bullied," said state Sen. Diane Allen, a Republican from Edgewater Park, "and every parent who didn't know what to do or who to contact."
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Democrat from Englewood, said she hopes the law will prevent suicides committed by bullying victims.
Sixteen-year-old Matthew Zimmer, of Ridgewood, who says he's been bullied because he's gay, testified before a legislative committee about the bill and was there Monday to see it pass.
"It means so much to me," he said afterward. "I endured bullying by students as well as administrative bullying by the school. It is looking up."
Groups of social conservatives spoke out against the bill, which got only one vote against it in either chamber. Some fear that the education provisions will legitimize gay marriage - which New Jersey doesn't recognize - and force children to be taught about homosexuality in school.
Public-interest law firms want to challenge the law if the governor signs it, said Greg Quinlan of the New Jersey Family Policy Council.