Chris Hall

Chris Hall

A bill that has been one of Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s priorities in each of the past three years is in limbo in the Iowa House. A bill designed to address concerns about bullying in Iowa schools cleared the Iowa Senate nearly a month ago on a 43-7 vote, but it hasn’t been considered in the Republican-led House.

“I have concerns about whether or not we’re inducing more risk of lawsuits and liability with the way it’s written right now,” House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, said Wednesday.

Democrats in the Iowa House tried to force Paulsen to bring the bill up for debate yesterday and were joined in the effort by the Republican chairman of the House Education Committee, but Paulsen and 51 other Republicans in the House united to block the move. Representative Chris Hall, a Democrat from Sioux City, said it’s important to draw attention to the impasse.

“It’s reaching the point of absurdity, folks,” Hall said just before the House adjourned Thursday. “Most of us agree that legislation cannot and will not resolve each and every issue of bullying, but we can also agree that our updates…can help.”

Back in January, Governor Branstad got a standing ovation from legislators during his “Condition of the State” speech when he called for passage of the anti-bullying bill. Branstad has said he and his staff have worked to address concerns raised in the past two years and the “time has come” to pass the legislation. Paulsen, the legislature’s top Republican, said the bill still has flaws.

“By us creating new standards and requirements for the schools, I’m not sure they have complete control over that side of the equation,” Paulsen told reporters.

Representative Hall, the Democrat who led the effort to try to force debate on the bill in the House, said House Republican leaders are “doubling down” on irresponsibility.

“House leaders have caved to Bob Vander Plaats and the far right fringe,” Hall said. “Perhaps it’s time to accept the reality that compromise won’t come from this chamber and kids won’t be a top priority within this House.”

Bob Vander Plaats — a Republican candidate for governor in 2002, 2006 and 2010 — is president of The Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization. The group is registered as opposed to Governor Branstad’s anti-bullying bill. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition are also registered opponents of the bill. Groups that represent Iowa educators and school boards support it.