DES MOINES — Efforts to reduce bullying in Iowa schools have been priorities for the last two legislative sessions, but lawmakers have again adjourned without approving a bill meant to help educators fight bullying.
Although Gov. Terry Branstad has held two statewide conferences to focus attention on school bullying and made the issue a key part of his legislative agenda, lawmakers have repeatedly struggled with the matter, even while acknowledging its importance.
In a statement released as the session was ending, Branstad promised to "continue to fight for our children because every student deserves a learning environment that is conducive to educational growth and free of harassment and bullying."
The problem is how to achieve those goals.
Bullying legislation came closer to passage this year than during the previous session, but it bogged down after the House approved a version that removed a Senate-backed provision meant to give school administrators more clarity about how they could respond to bullying that occurs away from school.
The Senate refused to take up the altered plan, determining that differences couldn't be resolved in the session's final days.
Rep. Quentin Stanerson, R-Center Point, said the House wouldn't support the bill unless those provisions were removed. Some lawmakers believed schools already have authority off school grounds, he said, and others thought bullying outside of school should be handled by police.
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said that aspect of the legislation was "the single most important thing to do."
"The problem is, the one thing that the students told me was most important, which is giving school administrators authority to address off-campus conduct that has an on-campus effect, the House didn't take that up in their version of the bill," Hogg said.
Hogg said the Senate and House also had disagreements on others aspects of the bill, including parental notification guidelines and training requirements for school officials. Both chambers had separately approved $500,000 in funding for implementation of bullying policies.