The Iowa House debated well into Wednesday evening, then voted 62-to-37 to give gay and lesbian students protection from bullying at school. The bill goes back to the Senate for consideration of House changes. Democrats say gays and others who have historically been harassed need the ban. Critics call it a backdoor attempt to write new civil rights protection for gays into law.
Roger Wendt, a Democrat and a retired school principal from Sioux City, led the fight for the bill. Wendt says "Iowa teachers need more tools to enforce discipline in the classrooms and to ensure students take responsibility for their actions." All schools in Iowa would be required to have policies banning bullying on the basis of, among other things, race, religion, or sexual orientation. It was clear early on Democrats had the votes to pass the bill.
Republicans were left sometimes tinkering around the edges to make what they call a bad bill better. Republican Mike May, a retired teacher from Spirit Lake, agreed that bullying is a problem at school. May says "I speak with 33 years of experience, having watched teachers more than once, ignore that bullying situation that was going on." May says it’s time to lose the list of traits and ban bullying for all.
May says "The founding fathers of this country and of our state, who were pretty wise folks, did not enumerate lists of people that should be afforded protection. Will our schools be safer with this legislation? I don’t believe so." Democrats turned down one Republican amendment after another. One would have spent ten million dollars to enforce the ban.
The Iowa Civil Rights Commission recommended the bill. Democrats argued teachers need the guidance of a list of traits for which students have been historically harassed. The vote came down strictly on party lines. Conservative Christian groups had lobbied against the bill. The house accommodated them and agreed that religious doctrine on homosexuality can still be taught.