Government

Iowa House OKs 'high-quality' school safety plan mandate

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City
Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City
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DES MOINES — In the wake of a rapid-fire succession of school shootings, the Iowa House on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation requiring schools to develop — and practice — emergency plans.

Senate File 2364, which the Senate also unanimously approved, requires public and non-public schools to develop secret school safety plans for each classroom building no later than June 30, 2019.

The plans must include responses to active-shooter situations as well as natural disasters. It would require all school personnel to conduct at least one emergency drill in each building. The drills could include students.

The bill, approved 100-0, now returns to the Senate where a House-added amendment will be considered.

Bill manager Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, called the legislation necessary “in today’s world” to make sure that schools have high-quality plans, have some guidance in developing them and involve law enforcement and emergency management service in developing the plans.

According to the Iowa Department of Education, 88 percent of Iowa school districts report having security plans, but less than 10 percent are high-quality plans with “walk-through” drills for school staff.

Despite the unanimous vote, Democrats spent hours criticizing the bill for its lack of oversight, funding and guidance.

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“It does absolutely nothing,” Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said. “It is hard to take a positive vote on such incomplete work.”

Wheeler rejected the idea that the bill was simply “feel-good” legislation.

“Folks, if this was a ‘feel-good’ bill, why on earth would I be running it?” Wheeler said in his closing argument. “If you’re in the education committee, you know I vote against ‘feel-good’ bills that I don’t think do anything. I’m not one bit shy about doing that.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has convened her own working group of state department heads to review school safety, called the bill “a good step in the right direction.”

The directors of the Iowa Departments of Education, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Human Services and Public Safety “look at what we’re doing, how we’re communicating and coordinating, look at where the gaps are at and how we can move forward,” Reynolds said Wednesday.

Lawmakers said that there have been 13 “copycat” threats in Iowa since the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Fla., school that left 17 dead.

Although they backed the bill, Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said Democrats were “intent on improving the content of the bill.”

While almost all schools have emergency plans, she said, they are “evolving.”

Democrats offered a series of amendments, most of which were ruled not germane. Among them was a proposal from Rep. Bruce Hunter of Des Moines, the ranking Democrat on the Labor Committee, who wanted to classify teachers as public safety employees. That would change how they are treated under the public employee collective bargaining law the GOP-controlled Legislature passed last year.

Other amendments called for a comprehensive mental health program for children, doorstops for classrooms, creation of a toll-free tip line, mobile app and website for people to secretly report suspicions about school violence and one to make the development of safety plans optional rather than mandatory.

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Reynolds acknowledged she’s “leery of mandates — that’s just not where I come from.”

However, given the number of school shootings, she said she supports the requirement that schools have and practice a plan.

“The good news is that 80 percent have done it without a mandate,” Reynolds said. “The remainder may need a little bit of a nudge. Sometimes it’s just knowing where to start.”

Campaign finance

The House also voted 100-0 change campaign finance reporting requirements for candidates and committees.

Senate File 2256 would require anyone making a contribution of more than $25 to provide their legal name and address to the receiving candidate or committee. Candidates who borrow money to make a contribution would have to report the source of the loan.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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