116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Despite concerns from a Democratic lawmaker over vague language, a free speech bill requiring Iowa's Board of Regents to implement policies, training, restrictions and penalties for First Amendment violations advanced Tuesday from an Iowa House panel.
Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City - a University of Iowa law professor - told colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee that provisions in the proposal would be difficult to actualize, could hamstring the campus and put teachers in murky territory. Since much of the bill's language comes from the regents' own recommendations, which the board approved last week, Bohannan bristled at the notion of baking it as written into law.
'Those recommendations were meant to be the start of a process to develop nuanced, meaningful policies around some of these different issues,” Bohannan said.
Despite her concerns, the committee voted 20-1 to advance House Study Bill 237, which also applies to public K-12 school districts.
'I do think there are some problems with the language,” agreed Rep. Mary Lynn Wolfe, D-Clinton. But she noted concerns can't be too serious if regents lobbyists haven't declared their own institutions as being against the bill.
Free speech has become the central issue affecting Iowa's public universities this legislative session, with lawmakers introducing several bills aimed at cracking down on what they see as First Amendment violations, imposing stricter oversight of teaching and instructors and demanding stronger policies.
Even regents-related bills that don't explicitly address free speech have First Amendment ties, like those aimed at eliminating tenure so administrators have more leeway to fire professors.
The House bill sent on to the floor Tuesday requires more training and First Amendment education and bars university resources from being used for 'partisan activities.”
It also prohibits university leaders from making 'public statements regarding policy matters” on behalf of their institutions, unless done so in collaboration with the regents. And it bans 'discrimination or denial of educational benefits” due to the views of a student or student organization.
Those are the points Bohannan flagged.
She noted, for example, some institutional resources should continue supporting 'partisan” activities - like funding the College Republicans and College Democrats.
To the point of 'public statements regarding policy matters,” Bohannan said the bill doesn't specify the behavior it's trying to curtail.
'Deans, vice presidents, other people at the university make comments about policy matters all day long,” she said. 'If they had to collaborate with the Board of Regents every time they were going to make a statement about a policy matter in general, then the whole place would grind to a halt.”
Comments: (319) 339-3158; firstname.lastname@example.org