Anti-bullying law stalls in the Iowa House

Proposal stems from Gov. Terry Branstad's anti-bullying summit held last fall

DES MOINES — Legislation aimed at strengthening the state’s anti-bullying law has stalled in the Iowa House.

“The bill is being worked on. We’re trying to figure it out. What we need it to do is make sure it helps Iowans and helps protect Iowans and, in particular, children in schools,” House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said Thursday. “The proposal just seems, while it may do that, it also looks like it may be extremely difficult for schools to administer.”

“We’re not interested in levying an unnecessary burden on school districts. So we’re trying to work through that and figure out that balance.”

The proposal came out of Gov. Terry Branstad’s anti-bullying summit held last fall. It explicitly extends school authority outside the classroom by allowing administrators to take action on reports of off-campus bullying, but it also holds them harmless legally if they don’t act.

Branstad called for the summit following the suicide of Kenneth Weishuhn of South O’Brien High School, who was bullied after coming out as gay to his friends, and release of the documentary film “Bully” shot, in part, in the Sioux City Community School District.

The bill passed safely through subcommittee and committee but hasn’t been called for a vote yet on the House floor even though it’s been eligible since earlier this month.

“Policing behavior that is not taking place at school would be a concern,” Paulsen said.

Adam Gregg, Branstad’s legislative liaison, discussed the bill with key House members this week, and the Branstad administration said it was optimistic a deal could be worked out.

“The governor will continue working with both parties in both legislative chambers on this anti-bullying bill, because keeping children safe in schools is a top priority of the governor,” Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said.

As of Thursday, lawmakers had filed five amendments to the bill, ranging from adding money to train school staff how to investigate bullying to one stating that a parent or guardian “shall prevent a student” from engaging in bullying behavior.“In my conversations with governor’s office, I think we have found consensus on language we’d both like to see included in the bill,” said Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, who wants the bill to have a parent notification clause included so districts automatically have to call parents when their child is involved in a bullying incident. “I don’t know where they are on the other amendments offered by the members of the House.”

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