DES MOINES — Legislation giving school officials new powers to go after bullies off school grounds made it through House and Senate committees Wednesday.
The bills contain more similarities than differences. They both include social media platforms in the definition, call for additional training of school personnel to recognize and react to bullying and allow school officials to take action against bullies when someone reports off-campus incidents.
“This bill is not set up to allow school officials to watch Facebook and all other social media all day to catch students doing their thing,” said Rep. Frank Wood, D-Eldridge. But, he said, it takes an important step in the right direction.
The bill, House Study Bill 525, passed on a 19-4 vote.
“It’s not just about the ones who are bullied — it’s also the ones who are doing the bullying,” said Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage. He encouraged lawmakers not to think the problem of bullying gets solved if the bill passes.
Greg Foristall, a Republican representative from Macedonia, took issue with the bill’s title, “The Bully-Free Iowa Act,” saying it “makes a mockery” of the effort because there’s no way the legislation would stop all bullying in the state. He voted for the bill.
The Senate version, Senate Study Bill 3149, includes a $1 million state appropriation for grants to local districts to help ensure positive atmospheres for students and money to provide better reporting of bullying and harassment incidents, said bill manager Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. More than 2,000 cases were confirmed in the state last year.
Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, who voted against the bill, said he wants more accountability by school districts who fail to promptly notify parents and a uniform “template” developed by the state to compile bullying and harassment incidents.
Johnson said he might offer Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposed legislation as an amendment when the bill comes up for debate on the Senate floor.
Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, a teacher, said everyone is for reducing bullying, but the solution “is not as simple as outsiders might think.” He said the bill that cleared the Senate committee was a good starting point for more discussions.
“Voting no is not a solution,” said Hogg, who called the measure “a significant step forward” in the effort to provide a safe, healthy and supportive learning environment for Iowa students.