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Lawmaker’s Remark on Bullying Bill Draws Criticism

A bill to strengthen the state’s anti-bullying law was sidelined for the year in a House subcommittee after a remarks by Rep. Roger Kane that are being criticized as insensitive.
Kane, R-Knoxville, read from a section of the bill (HB927), which would broaden the definition of bullying to include “any conduct that substantially interferes with a student’s educational benefits, opportunities, or performance, and that is based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, ethnicity, academic achievement, sexual orientation, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, or physical appearance of either the student or a person with whom the student has an actual or perceived association. ”
He told the sponsor, Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, that he could see the broad language covering a 7th grader “wearing a Texas Aggie t-shirt” being the butt of jokes from other students. Kane recalled himself “being the tallest 4th grader and being picked on because my ears stuck out.”
“That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” Kane said.
The latter remark was cited by Tennessee Equality Project, which advocates for gay, lesbian and transgender rights, in a news release declaring that Kane should be removed from the House Education Committee.
“He’s essentially saying that bullying is good for you because it toughens you up. Rep. Kane sends a terrible message to those Tennesseans who have forever lost a friend, a student, a son, or a daughter (through suicide after a bullying situation),” said Jonathan Cole with the Tennessee Equality Project.
Kane said afterwards that he was simply pointing out that the bill is overbroad. Kane said his mother was Jewish and his father Catholic, which caused him to be criticized as “a Jesus killer” as a child.
“It made me a better person – able to got to a better place because of it,” he said.
Several other members of the panel criticized the measure in lengthy debate. It was ultimately sent to to the state Department of Education for review with Kamper’s agreement. That means it will not be further considered this year.
Kane said he would work with Kamper on the bill “to refine it and make it better” for consideration next year.

UPDATE: Asked for House Speaker Beth Harwell’s response to Kane’s comments, her spokeswoman, Kara Owen, sent this email:
The Speaker takes the issue of bullying very seriously, as does this entire legislature, evidenced by the full discussion in committee on the bill. We are confident Representative Kane wishes to work toward good, solid policy on this very important issue.