A victory and a beginning: Stop Bullying Bill filed with Mass Legislature

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Sun, 01/20/2013 - 16:15

bullied woman A victory and a beginning. The STOP BULLYING COMMITTEE has introduced a bill to stop bullying to the Massachusetts Legislature. SD01635 A bill to protect residents of subsidized housing developments from bullying; bullying prevention policies and plans; research and demonstration programs.

The filing of the bill was made "by request" on behalf of Jerry Halberstadt by newly elected State Senator, Joan Lovely, 2nd Essex District (Peabody, Salem, Beverly, Danvers and Topsfield). She responded quickly, but without taking a position on the bill, in order to assure that we could file our bill during the short submission period at the beginning of the legislative session.

This success now enables us to begin the process of advocacy---negotiating and seeking support in the legislature and the community, involving citizens, interest groups, and stakeholders. We will be broadly inclusive of all who share our concerns. To join the effort, please write:
email: [email protected]

Quick, easy way to help by contacting Beacon Hill

The bill is modeled after an existing law to address bullying in schools (MASS GL Part I, Title XII, chapter 71, section 370 ). In recent years there have been new laws protecting children and others against bullying and harassment; we build on these precedents to extend the same protections to residents of subsidized housing developments. Some aspects of our bill differ from the schools bill because the contexts of housing and schools are different.

We have benefited greatly from the experience and advice of Michael Kane, director of the Mass. Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT), and plan to work with him in creating a strong alliance of advocates helping to stop bullying. We have already begun to reach out to a number of agencies and advocacy groups working on behalf of elders and people with disabilities.

We were lucky to get any bill filed in time, and could not even complete all of our planned changes or fix typos! So our draft bill is imperfect, and very much a work in progress. We will seek to have it re-drafted to conform to legislative requirements and administrative realities. We will continue to research appropriate solutions and seek to update and amend the bill as it goes through the legislative process. We need to clarify the best department to implement and oversee the procedures proposed by the bill, mechanisms to assure compliance, and much more.

You might ask, why all this last-minute rush? Why wasn't the bill properly drafted in time? Well, we had never petitioned or filed a bill before, and we didn't know what we didn't know. We thought that a reasoned explanation of the need and proposed solutions would be enough to create a bill, and we believed that one legislator was prepared to draft the bill based on our request. We thought that solutions were easy to see and to make. But actually, no! Although the problem of bullying is simple, not everyone is aware of it, and changes involve many stakeholders. And because the issue has not been addressed by government, there may be no governmental framework prepared to take it on. So writing a law is much harder and takes longer than we imagined and demands expertise that we didn't have. And the state representative and friend that surely would have helped advise us, Joyce Spiliotis, had just died, leaving that position vacant; while the new state senator, Joan Lovely, had not yet taken office.

We never knew that in Massachusetts all citizens have the right to petition the state legislature. This procedure is called the right of free petition. A citizen drafts and files a Petition and accompanying Bill. A legislator sponsors the Bill "by request" in the General Court. (Massachusetts Legislative Glossary)

Change does not come easily: it is not enough to be aware of a problem; it is not enough to have a proposed solution; we need to delve into the details of state administration; we need to engage stakeholders; and we need to advocate. It is a very exciting and challenging time. Please come share the adventure with us, we welcome your ideas and input.

The Stop Bullying Bill

TITLE:

A bill to protect residents of subsidized housing developments from bullying; bullying prevention policies and plans; research and demonstration programs.

PREAMBLE to the Bill

A bill to protect residents of public and privately-owned housing developments (including multi-family subsidized housing) from bullying; bullying prevention policies and plans; research and demonstration programs; and to improve the accountability of landlords and housing authorities to provide a save and secure environment for residents.

The purpose of the bill is to stop the bullying of residents of housing development residences, with attention to elders and persons living with disabilities residing in subsidized housing. Residents should be safe and secure in their homes, free of harassment and bullying (including by other residents, staff, or management) in their apartment buildings. We ask the legislature to provide comprehensive remedies and prevention, to support research into the causes and remedies, and to support innovative demonstration programs, as well as assuring relief and enforcement to protect residents.

  • To make the management responsible for implementing and enforcing an evidence-based policy against bullying; to create and enforce training standards for management and staff; to inform, educate, and involve all residents; to clarify the responsibilities of management (including landlords) to assure a safe and secure environment; to provide means of enforcement and other incentives for management to have and implement an appropriate policy with the goal of maintaining a community environment free of bullying.
  • To promote and support programs of research, intervention, training, and education to develop, evaluate, and promulgate effective methods and best practices in order to avoid and correct bullying. To provide oversight and to clarify and support the ability of agencies to intervene in the name of preventing elder abuse.
  • To enable an aggrieved resident to find easy access to effective enforcement; and to create a consumer-oriented ombudsman with appropriate powers to investigate, intervene, and provide rapid remedy.

Petition to Stop Bullying

Our "petition" serves as a briefing paper that seeks to explain the underlying sources of the problem and to review research findings and methods of intervention and prevention.

A Petition to Stop Bullying of Elders and People Living with Handicaps in Multi-family Housing.

  • A requirement for landlords and management to have and enforce policies on bullying; to involve tenants in the ongoing efforts; to provide access for tenants to an ombudsman, access to the courts, and assure mechanisms of external oversight and enforcement.
  • Support for education including the development and evaluation of materials and methods and support for dissemination through all media—print, online, and by qualified trainers.
  • Support for research into the causes and conditions leading to bullying, evaluation of remedial methods, and development and demonstration programs to create effective interventions.