March 18 2013 12:00 AM

City Council denounces Senate Republicans’ version of anti-bullying legislation; approves its budget policies and priorities for next fiscal year

Tuesday, Nov. 8 — The Lansing City Council is urging the state House of Representatives to stray from the path paved by Senate Republicans last week on statewide anti-bullying legislation.

In a unanimous vote Monday night, the Council approved a resolution asking state representatives to not support certain language in a Senate bill that critics say actually encourages bullying at school.

Senate Bill 137 passed Wednesday and has since attracted national media attention and public outcry because of a late provision that exempts from the law remarks made from a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

Critics of the bill say the Senate’s version legitimizes bullying if it’s done based on religious beliefs. Some, including Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-Lansing, say it provides a roadmap for how to bully other children and get away with it. (If you’re not one of the hundreds of thousands who has seen Whitmers’ response to the legislation on YouTube, click here.)

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan told the Detroit Free Press Thursday that he thought the Senate’s bill is “a joke.” MIRS reported Friday that key House Republicans, including Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, are not warm to the Senate’s version.

At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar introduced the resolution at Monday’s meeting. A friendly amendment from 1st Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt encourages the House to add language to the bill that covers all forms of “cyber-bullying,” not just that done on computers at school. The Council’s resolution passed unanimously. All eight members were present.

The Council's resolution says, in part: “Religious beliefs and moral convictions have been used throughout history to justify discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, weight, and other actual or perceived characteristics. …

“SB 137, as passed, creates a blueprint for bullying, further endangering children by legitimizing excuses for tormenting a student …

“Kevin Epling, the father of the boy after whom this legislation is named, called SB 137, as passed, ‘unconscionable’ and ‘government-sanctioned bigotry’ …

“The Lansing City Council hereby urges the State House of Representatives to remove language exempting statements that reflect ‘sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,’ include language prohibiting cyber bullying from any electronic device, and pass comprehensive legislation that protects Michigan students from bullying for any reason.”

In other business, the Council unanimously approved a list of budget policies and priorities for the next fiscal year. The list serves as a guide for the administration, which annually prepares fiscal year budgets to be voted on by Council. The resolution is non-binding, and the administration doesn’t have to follow the recommendations.

According to the resolution, “the City Council maintains that public and emergency services be protected from budget cuts to the extent possible and that tax increases be considered.”

The Council is also encouraging the administration “to the extent practicable to negotiate a 20% reduction in costs in existing and future leases and vendor contracts.”

The six-page document also suggests establishing an Arts Commission; an Environmental and Public Health Commission; consolidating the North and South Police Department precincts, Central Police Operations and 54-A District Court; “utilizing regional fire facilities”; “establish a fund for temporary emergency housing needs”; no further cuts to forestry and cemetery staff; a “beautification standard/expectation in all proposed development projects”; to pursue more grocery stores in the city, particularly “specialty” markets such as “Whole Foods” and “Trader Joe’s”; outfit all public parking meters and lots with “renewable energy stations (I.G.P.) for hybrid vehicles"; and a cost-benefit analysis of the city providing all residential garbage services in the city.

The Council was more than a month late in approving its budget policies and priorities — the City Charter requires the Council to have it completed by Oct. 1 annually.

In other business, the Council unanimously approved seven other resolutions at Monday’s meeting:

  • Settling a workers’ compensation claim for “alleged work related injuries/illnesses” in which the city pay an unnamed plaintiff $52,000. The city’s policy is to not release the name of the plaintiff in such settlements, Dunbar said;

  • Allocating nearly $125,000 in federal grant funds for the Police Department’s Capital Area Response Effort, a domestic abuse counseling program;

  • Formally accepting a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to rehire 11 police officers to be placed in schools. The grant lasts four years;

  • Appointing Malekka Maki to the Community Corrections Advisory Board for a term to expire Sept. 17, 2012;

  • Recognizing the Rev. Herman Green for 50 years of service in the Lansing area. Green is the pastor at Paradise Missionary Baptist Church;

  • Setting the 2012 City Council calendar; and

  • Approving a business license transfer from Wagners, Inc. to Just A Little FEC, LLC at 3101 E. Grand River Ave. This address is the site of Holiday Lanes just north of Frandor Shopping Center in the 1st Ward.