Bullying, gas tax lead issues discussion

Just how much the state government should do about bullying that extends beyond the schoolyard and even into cyberspace was debated by lawmakers Saturday morning in Fort Dodge.

State Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, described a Senate anti-bullying proposal as a way to make schools safe for all children.

State Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, said bullying is harassment, which is already illegal. He said the problem should be handled by law enforcement officers rather than teachers and new Department of Education programs.

Also during Saturday’s Eggs and Issues forum, Beall and Shaw received a plea for raising the gas tax from Webster County Supervisor Keith Dencklau, who said counties no longer have the money to fix roads.

Beall supports such an increase; Shaw does not. Shaw has also said he thinks any increase in the gas tax should be offset by a decrease in the personal income tax.

Following the forum, Beall said he does not expect action on a gas tax increase anytime soon because of a lack of support from legislative Republicans.

“It has to have a critical mass of Democratic and Republican support,” he said. “I don’t expect anything coming down the line right away.”

About 65 people attended the forum at the East Campus of Iowa Central Community College. Beall and Shaw were the only lawmakers present.

Eggs and Issues is sponsored by the college and the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance.

Gas tax

In Iowa, the gasoline tax has been 22 cents per gallon since 1989. That money can only be spent on road and bridge work.

Growing construction costs have local officials and groups like the U.S. 20 Corridor Association pressing for an increase in the tax.

“I just can’t imagine why we wouldn’t vote for it, and I ask your support to get it done this year, not next year,” Dencklau told the legislators.

“They say it’s a political issue,” he added. “Well, I think it’s a political issue too. If you don’t vote for it, we’re not going to vote for you. We’re going to put somebody down there who’s going to vote for it because we don’t have any money to fix the roads anymore.”

Dencklau said he was told by Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, that the votes of five Republican senators are needed to pass a tax increase in the Senate.

“I’ve stated categorically that I will support it,” Beall said.

Shaw called for weight testing bridges on rural roads to see if they truly need to be replaced.

After the forum, Beall said that Gronstal doesn’t want the gas tax increase to become a campaign issue, so he is looking for Republican support. Beall added that there are apparently six or seven Republican senators who are “agreeable” to an increase. But so far, he said, Republicans have not committed any votes toward passage of an increase.

He said he doesn’t expect any action on a gas tax increase this week, or in the near future.

The Senate Transportation Committee approved an increase last month, according to Beall.

A subcommittee in the House of Representatives approved a 10 cents per gallon increase on Jan. 29, but no further action was taken in that chamber.

Bullying

The Senate bill touted by Beall would give teachers the ability to discipline students for bullying that occurs off campus or online. It also budgets $1 million for new anti-bullying programs to be conducted by the state Department of Education.

“This is just simply a step to improving the safety of our kids,” Beall said.

He said teachers should be able to address bullying that occurs away from school if it affects the student’s in-school performance and safety.

Shaw described the Senate measure as an unnecessary expansion of government power.

“We already have laws against harassment,” he said. “That should be a problem for law enforcement to handle. It requires a professional investigation by law enforcement.”

“My concern is schools will try to handle it, and law enforcement will be left out,” he added.

Judge Brown, of Fort Dodge, who described himself as an “old teacher,” asked Beall if the Senate bill would put more burdens on teachers.

“I don’t see it being that burdensome,” the senator replied.

Brown said parents must play a role in putting an end to bullying.

“When are we going to start holding parents responsible?” he asked. “At some point we need to call some parents to task.”