By LIZZY MCLELLAN
ANNAPOLIS (March 1, 2012)—In the wake of recent incidents that gained state and national attention, the Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation that would put dating in the same category as bullying, harassment and intimidation in public schools.
The bill, named the Kristin Marie Mitchell Law, would add dating violence to the list of behaviors that county boards of education must report under the Safe Schools Reporting Act of 2005. A similar bill passed the House of Delegates in 2011, but failed in the Senate.
Mitchell was a former resident of Maryland who was killed in Pennsylvania by her boyfriend in 2005, only three weeks after graduating from college. Her family members have since dedicated themselves to spreading knowledge about dating violence through the Kristin Mitchell Foundation.
A hearing Thursday for the Mitchell Law came just over a week after a jury convicted University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely of killing Yeardley Love, his ex-girlfriend. Jurors found Huguely guilty of second degree murder and grand larceny, recommending a sentence of 26 years' imprisonment.
While the Huguely trial brought renewed attention to dating violence, the public eye also focused once again this week on bullying and violence in schools when a student shot five other students at Chardon High School in Ohio, killing three. Though the prosecutor in the case said the shooting was not a result of bullying, numerous news reports have said the alleged shooter was an outcast in school.
"If anything can come out of those tragedies, it's an awareness that we have a very serious problem," said Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, who is sponsoring the bill. He called dating violence "a very extreme, brutal form of bullying."
The original Safe Schools Reporting Act did not include the term "bullying," but stated that incidents of "harassment or intimidation" must be reported. The word "bullying" was added in a 2008 bill, which also specified that intimidating and threatening behavior occurring via electronic communication should be reported to the state.
Manno said that adding dating violence will bring greater notice to the issue by associating it with bullying. He added that mandating reports on incidents of dating violence will also help schools to see where problems exist and find ways to combat the issue.
"Unless we have that data ... we're driving blind," he said.
About 10 percent of students in the United States reported having been physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in 2009, said a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report showed that about 16.9 percent of Maryland high school students encountered dating violence throughout one year.
"The earlier we can intervene to break that cycle, the better off we are," said Delegate Benjamin Kramer, D-Montgomery, who is sponsoring the House version of the bill.
A bill proposed in 2011 would have required Maryland public schools to provide education on dating violence. That bill received an unfavorable report in the Senate, however, because school boards were opposed, Manno said.
A bill passed in 2009 encouraged, but didn't mandate, instruction on dating violence in middle and high schools.
The current bill was heard Thursday in Senate committee, but no action was taken and only Manno spoke on the bill.
The House version of the bill will be heard March 15. Kramer said he expects organizations fighting dating violence to attend, and he expects the bill to pass again in the House.