04 Apr 2013 — 11:57 AM
A Democratic lawmaker in the Iowa House on Tuesday implored his colleagues to continue advancing anti-bullying legislation despite what he described as controversy and conservative outcry over the issue.
But House Speaker Kraig Paulsen all but declared the bill dead, noting the procedural hurdles facing the bill between now and a legislative deadline looming on Friday.
In a statement, Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, noted bipartisan support for House File 593, which expands the definitions of bullying and harassment to include online social media interactions and grants school officials the ability to police bullying beyond school grounds.
The measure won committee approval 22-1 nearly a month ago but has not yet come up for floor debate and a vote.
The lone “no” vote in committee came from Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, who said she and other Republicans were concerned that the bill improperly defines bullying, threatens free speech, gives school officials too much power to punish students and undermines local control.
House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, who controls the chamber’s debate calendar, said the bill wasn’t ready for debate because lawmakers were still tweaking its language. Paulsen, in a separate interview, said such tweaks couldn’t be made in time to get the bill over to the Senate before Friday’s “funnel” deadline, by which time bills from one chamber must win committee approval in the other to remain viable.
“There’s no pathway to get it enacted at this point,” he said.
Hall contends the bill was slowed by Republican opposition to the Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth, a meeting of gay youths and their advocates and allies that begins today and focuses heavily on issues of bullying and harassment.
Social-conservative groups in the state have spoken out against the conference, and 16 GOP lawmakers are pledging to vote against state funding for Des Moines Area Community College unless the school withholds funding for the conference.
The same lawmakers who have spoken out against the conference are blocking House File 593’s progress in the Legislature, Hall charged.
“Certain members of the House majority have stalled it or put a block on it, and leadership has caved to those requests,” Hall said.
Salmon said she didn’t see a direct link between the bill’s failure and conservative opposition to the gay youth conference. Rather, conservatives are more concerned that the bill could shut down protected speech.
“It’s important not to bully people — no one believes in bullying people — but there’s also a place for allowing people to disagree and express their views to each other that’s within the bounds of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” she said.
The statement opposing the conference is signed by Salmon and eight fellow Republican representatives as well as seven GOP senators.
The bill stems from ideas generated at an anti-bullying conference sponsored by GOP Gov. Terry Branstad last fall, and Hall said he’s been working with the governor’s office on modifications.
Branstad himself on Tuesday met with gay rights activists who will be participating in the LGBTQ conference.