Friday, October 10, 2008

Anti-bullying bill passes Iowa Senate

by TODD DORMAN, Globe Gazette Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES — A bill requiring school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies expressly protecting gay and lesbian students cleared the Iowa Senate Tuesday night.

The bill, approved 36-14, is a top priority for Democrats who control the Iowa Senate and House. Passage sends the bill to the House, which could send it to Gov. Chet Culver as early as today.

Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, voted for the bill; Sen. Thurman Gaskill, R-Corwith, against it.

“I think this is a historic night for the Senate and a great night for the students of Iowa,” said Sen. Mike Connolly, D-Dubuque, the bill’s lead sponsor. “This bill is about providing a safe and civil environment in schools.”

Republicans criticized the bill, arguing that it would be what one GOP senator called a “litigation golden goose” that could be costly for schools.

Six Republicans joined 30 Democrats voting in favor of the bill.

The bill requires school districts to enact a policy by Sept. 1 targeting bullying and harassment against students. But schools also would be expected to take specific aim at bullies whose taunts are tied to a list of real or perceived traits and characteristics.

The list includes, “age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender, identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or, disability, ancestry, political beliefs, socioeconomic status, or familial status.”

Supporters argue that homosexual students and others listed in the bill have endured what they called a “historic pattern” of harassment in schools and deserve special attention from local officials.

Districts can add to the list, but can’t subtract categories. The bill would apply to students, staff and volunteers at all accredited public and nonpublic schools.

Republicans argued the bill could open the door for legal action against private, religious schools with doctrines that regard homosexuality as a sin. GOP senators offered an amendment seeking to exempt non-public schools from having to adopt the state-mandated policy.

But the amendment was defeated on a 28-22 vote.

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