First, we congratulate Linda Upmeyer for her historic selection last week as the first woman Iowa House speaker. The Clear Lake Republican will replace Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha.
Second, we challenge Upmeyer to do what needs to be done and push an anti-bullying bill through her chamber next year.
For the last three consecutive sessions, the Iowa Legislature talked about, but didn't pass a bill to strengthen anti-bullying law in the state.
Lawmakers came close to passage of a bill in this year's session, but due to lack of action in the House the end result was the same - failure.
We supported the anti-bullying bill, largely because we believed it would address the pervasive problem of cyberbullying - tormenting, threatening, harassing or embarrassing someone using the Internet or other technologies, like cell phones - in effective fashion.
Statistics about the prevalence of cyberbullying abound. According to i-SAFE, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to Internet safety education, for example, more than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online. In our local school district, cyberbullying represents about 65 percent of all bullying incidents.
Among its provisions, the anti-bullying bill would have taken the valuable step of permitting a school to investigate alleged bullying incidents occurring away from school property. The legislation provided training for school districts in properly investigating bullying claims and established a student mentoring program to promote student engagement in preventing bullying.
Gov. Terry Branstad supported the anti-bullying bill. The state Senate passed the bill, 43-7. Anti-bullying leaders in education like Sioux City Superintendent of Schools Paul Gausman supported the bill. Iowans overwhelmingly supported this effort. In a February Des Moines Register poll, 73 percent of Iowans answered "favor" to the following question: Do you favor or oppose authorizing school personnel to react to bullying by notifying parents and disciplining students even when the incident takes place away from school, including through social media?"
Bullying is, in a word, wrong.
At the end of the recently concluded legislative session, we vowed to continue advocating in this space for anti-bullying legislation. To this end, we today deliver this message to Upmeyer, who, in fact, was one of the biggest reasons the bill didn't land on Branstad's desk for signature this year (as majority leader, she and Paulsen wouldn't give the bill a vote on the House floor):
As the new speaker, you will hold significant power for determining the House agenda again next year. We hope - no, expect - support from you and a different outcome for the bullying bill in 2016.