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Antibullying measure in Iowa meets resistance

Antibullying measure in Iowa meets resistance

Advocates in Iowa said a measure aimed at clamping down on harassment and bullying in schools is being blocked by a handful of key lawmakers because it touches on the issue of protecting gay and lesbian students. "That's what the people of Iowa ought to be outraged about, that certain Republicans would hold these bills up so they couldn't be debated," Rich Eychaner, a prominent Des Moines businessman who is an openly gay Republican activist, said Monday. The measure Eychaner is supporting would ban harassment against youngsters for a long list of reasons, including sexual orientation. "It won't work unless you identify the people who are most subject to harassment," Eychaner said. The issue was scheduled to be debated in the senate education committee on Monday, but Republican senator Paul McKinley, a head of the panel, erased it from the list of measures to be considered. McKinley said he's all for safe schools but doesn't think lawmakers need to specify which groups need to be protected. Because the senate is tied at 25-25, each committee has two chairmen, and both must sign off on which measures will be debated. Democratic senator Michael Connolly, the other committee chairman, has authored a similar measure. Brad Clark, who heads a task force on issues affecting gays and lesbians in school, said harassment is growing. He said many people in positions to protect youngsters from being bullied don't think they have the tools they need. "To say that this is something a kid has to go through is just not acceptable," Clark said. "A lot of teachers and some administrators don't feel they have the backing to control the problem." H. Ted Coppock, a Des Moines insurance executive, has joined in the lobbying effort. "I happen to be a lifelong, rabid Republican who has a gay daughter," said Coppock, who is seeking to buttonhole GOP lawmakers on the issue. "When she went to school at Saydel High School she was faced with these issues," Coppock said. "There were many times when she came home from school crying because she had been harassed or bullied." Eychaner lost a Republican congressional primary in the 1980s, largely because he publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation. He's been active in gay rights causes since that time. For the past year, Eychaner said he's been holding community meetings across the state and has lined up support from virtually every education interest group in the state as well as hundreds of other groups. "This is an issue that has widespread support around the state," Eychaner said. "This is not a few people coming down to the legislature. This is dozens and dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of organizations all over the state of Iowa saying this needs to be fixed." (AP)

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