WASHINGTON – Two New Jersey lawmakers plan to try again this year to win passage of an anti-bullying bill named for a Rutgers University student who committed suicide last fall.
The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which didn’t come up for a vote in the waning days of the last Congress, would require colleges and universities that receive federal funds to explicitly ban harassment based on a student’s sexual orientation.
Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Democratic Rep. Rush Holt of Hopewell Township introduced the measure on Nov. 17, about two months after the 18-year-old Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after learning that his intimate encounter with another man had been broadcast live online.
Holt said the bill should get a "fairer and fuller hearing" in the new Congress, which began its two-year session Wednesday.
"It got lost in the end-of-the-session crunch," Holt said. "The need for it hasn’t gone away."
Lautenberg’s spokesman, Caley Gray, said the bill is a priority for the senator and “will absolutely be re-introduced in the Senate.’’
The bill would require colleges and universities to distribute upgraded anti-bullying policies to students and notify them of counseling, mental health and other options.
It also proposes creating a $250 million grant program to help schools form or expand campus anti-bullying programs.
The bill’s price tag could prove problematic at a time when Republicans, who control the House and have expanded their presence in the Senate, are determined to slash federal spending.
Critics of the measure say it’s unnecessary.
Federal law already requires colleges and universities to bar harassment and the Lautenberg-Holt measure would violate students’ free-speech rights, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights for Education based in Philadelphia.
"For decades, colleges have used vague, broad harassment codes to silence even the most innocuous speech on campus,’’ Greg Lukianoff, the foundation’s president, said in a statement on its website in November. “The proposed law requires universities to police even more student speech under a hopelessly vague standard that will be a disaster for open debate and discourse on campus.’’
But Holt said some colleges don’t explicitly bar bullying based on sexual orientation at a time when online bullying is on the rise. He said the bill would not restrict students’ First Amendment rights.
“It doesn’t imprison students for teasing or bullying their classmates,’’ he said.
New Jersey authorities say two 18-year-old Rutgers freshmen – Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi of Plainsboro, and Molly Wei of Princeton – used a laptop video camera to live-stream Clementi’s encounter. They have been charged with violating his privacy.
Authorities also are considering filing hate crime charges against Ravi and Wei, both of whom have withdrawn from Rutgers.