With the clock ticking, the lead sponsor of New Jersey's anti-bullying law said she is close to filing new language -- and finding new money -- that will help the wide-ranging policy pass constitutional muster.
State Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) said she plans to file the new language on Monday, after final conversations with other sponsors, as well as with Gov. Chris Christie's office.
The timing of the changes -- from subtle to substantial -- is critical. The current law could be voided in the next month, following a ruling by the state's Council on Local Mandates that the measure violated a constitutional prohibition against unfunded mandates.
Huttle said the changes would include wording in the law's preamble saying that combating bullying in schools is part of the state's constitutional responsibility to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public education.
In addition, she said new money would be made available in the budget to help districts meet the needs of the law, a key issue raised in the council's decision on behalf of a small Warren County district -- which balked at paying for anti-bullying personnel out of its own pocket.
The legislature has until March 27 to implement the changes. The council gave it until then before it published its opinion that would rule the existing law null and void. The Assembly's next -- and last -- voting session before then is April 15, meaning it must move quickly if it is to get through the required committees.