Iowa House ChamberThe bullying bill, HSB 196, survived funnel week in the Iowa House.  It was passed out of the House Education Committee so it could be debated on the Iowa House floor.  There was only one dissenting vote – State Representative Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville).  She said to me in an email:

It had a couple positives but the bad outweighed the good. So I voted no. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I think there should be some amendments offered to fix it on the floor and try to make it more local control and liberty-friendly but on the other hand adding more law to what was bad law to begin with seems like not a good idea and a waste of time, like throwing good law after bad plus, it could even “validate” this bad idea.

State Representative Kevin Koester (R-Ankeny) who voted in favor of the bill in committee said he did so anticipating an amended House File that will only allow schools to act only if it involves school property, during the school day or an event, or on school grounds.  He doesn’t want “big brother” to have authority beyond that.  State Representative Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls) echoed that Koester’s comment.  He said, “I voted it forward to keep the discussion moving.  I have some concerns about the bill as do you which I hope we straighten out on the floor.”

And pig-in-flight alert, I am in agreement with The Des Moines Register editorial board which on Saturday expressed their concern about this particular bill:

The Iowa Legislature is serious about giving Iowa school officials new tools to confront bullying within their jurisdictions. That is a good thing. One of those tools would be the authority to punish students for offensive things they write on social media outside of school. That is not a good thing.

Both the Iowa and federal constitutions prohibit the government from punishing people for what they write and what they say, even if those words may be considered offensive. Giving public school authorities the power to punish students for speech deemed by some to be offensive is an intrusion into the rights protected by the First Amendment.

The anti-bullying legislation moving rapidly in the House covers any electronic, written or verbal communications, including “social networking Internet sites.” The bill seeks to protect certain expression, including political and religious beliefs, but it leaves the door far too open to over-reaching by school officials.

This is not to diminish the power of words to cause serious harm to youngsters susceptible to bullying. Nor is it to suggest that kids who verbally abuse other kids should suffer no consequences. But why should school officials have authority over what students say outside the confines of educational institutions? (emphasis mine)

Exactly!  As they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  This is one of them.  This bill should not proceed if it is not amended to remove authority from schools away from school grounds.  We can overlook a committee vote if the bill is amended as anticipated.  If it isn’t and it is passed then those legislators who vote in favor of it have a lot of explaining to do to parents who believe it is their responsibility to police their children’s social media activity.

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Photo Credit: Jason Mrachina via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

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