Iowa Lawmakers Pass New Bill Broadening Definition of Bullying

Iowa SenateIowa lawmakers approved a new, anti-bullying bill early this morning. The Iowa Senate was largely divided on the legislation; even so, the controversial bill passed by a vote of 26 to 19. “All votes in favor of the bill were cast by Democrats, and all votes against were by Republicans,” The Des Moines Register, a Gannett publication, added.

The new bill, Senate File 2318, expands the current definition of bullying, grants teachers and school officials authority to punish students bullying peers online and/or outside of school, and mandates parental notification of bullying as well as intensified, preventative training for teachers. “This bill is about getting our schools more tools, more resources, more training to safeguard our children,” Senator Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, says of the new statute. There are at least “2,500 instances of bullying” in Iowa schools every year, according to the The Des Moines Register.

In addition to a broader definition of bullying and more in-depth training for educators, the bill will also increase “funding for a new office within the state Department of Education and a $750,000 grant program for districts to promote safer schools,” The Sioux City Journal explains.

Republican lawmakers opposed the proposed bill for several reasons. Senator David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, argued the bill completely undermined parental authority. Parents, Johnson continues, should take a significant role in determining their children’s behavior and preventing bullying at school. Another Republican Senator, Jake Chapman, added that the language was too specific: “Bullying is bullying regardless of who you are. We should be protecting all kids in Iowa, not just 18 enumerated characteristics. All Iowans deserve to be protected.”

Iowa school districts will see direct changes, thanks to the new legislation. The debate, however, is not necessarily over. The Des Moines Register concludes, “The Senate legislation now goes to the House, where another version of anti-bullying legislation is under consideration. The issue is a priority of Gov. Terry Branstad.”

When dealing with anti-bullying legislation, the type that happens in school is no longer the sole focus. More and more, states are beginning to recognize the need for legislation against cyberbullying as well.

“In recent years, with the onset of young and sophisticated online users, state legislatures have sought to protect minors from online bullying or harassment by enacting “cyberbullying” laws,” explains Maria Sanders, COO and Senior Staff Attorney of Legislative Intent Service, Inc. “There are numerous states addressing these cyberbullying issues, from Alabama and Hawaii tightening up their cyberharassment laws, to Kentucky, New Jersey, and Wyoming focusing in on cyberstalking. For example, in 2013, California enacted Assembly Bill 256 to amend an Education Code provision relating to pupils to provide that schools may now suspend or expel students for bullying by an electronic act that originated off school grounds.”

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