A Democrat in the Iowa Senate is blasting Republicans in the House for failing to advance the anti-bullying bill that has stalled in each of the past two years as well.
“Now why we can’t get a bully bill out of the legislature is a crime in itself,” Senator Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines, said during a speech on the Senate floor.
Bisignano said he’s been moved by the tragedy of a 12-year-old South East Polk student’s suicide.
“Somehow we’re all going to sit here smugly at the end of the year and think: ‘Well, we did a pretty good job,’ Between when we adjourn and come back, there will be dozen of kids that will have taken their lives,” Bisignano said. “…Why can’t we do this? Why can’t we solve this problem? Why do we accept suicide with young people? It’s preventable. Bullying is preventable.”
Bisignano said it’s time for legislators to “do the right thing” and give teachers, administrators and coaches more authority to address bullying that happens outside of school hours, on social media. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, said it’s a tragedy when a child who’s bullied takes their own life.
“Obviously that’s a tragic situation and our hearts go out to the families and everyone that’s impacted by that,” Paulsen said when asked by a reporter to respond to Bisignano’s comments.
Paulsen said the anti-bullying bill is still a work in progress. House Republican Leader Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake said Republicans have problems with a Senate-passed bill because while it says parents should be notified if their child is involved in a bullying incident, school administrators wouldn’t have to tell a parent if they believe it might be harmful to the student.
“Something that is really kind of a loophole that really doesn’t require notification at all,” Upmeyer said.
Supporters of that provision say, for example, some gay or lesbian students might be “outed” if their principle tells a parent their child is being bullied at school. House Republicans say parents should be told what’s happening if there are problems at school, regardless of the circumstances. Eight years ago, the legislature passed a law that required Iowa schools to establish anti-bullying policies and Upmeyer suggests an update to that law may not be necessary.
“We have a law on the books. It’s working well for many schools and we want to make sure that if we’re changing that (law) that we’re improving it,” Upmeyer said.
In each of the past three years Republican Governor Terry Branstad has asked legislators to expand that anti-bullying law. Branstad said there’s far more bullying on social media these days and the law needs to give schools clear authority to address bullying that’s happening on Twitter, Facebook and other sites.