Saturday, April 28, 2012

Iowa HF 244: Empowering the Biggest Bully

Kenneth Weishuhn's tragic suicide has returned the issue of bullying to the forefront of political dialogue.  Even Governor Branstad has weighed in on the subject.  When the public talks loud enough about a problem the General Assembly typically acts.  The question then turns to how best and proper action to best solve the problem.

We can all start with the premise that no one likes bullies.  Every mature adult knows that bullying is atrocious behavior that should be suppressed at every opportunity.
Iowa law already has overburdened the educational system with the absurdity of the existing bullying statute, Iowa Code 280.28.  The statist approach is embodied in Iowa HF 2444 is quintessentially liberal/progressive.

HF2444 imposes yet another duty on educators that has nothing to do with the core function of education.  The statute literally requires:

The stated purpose of HF 2444 is the imposition of civil liability on the parents of bullies.  In the even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut category the liberals have stumbled on a good point.  Parents are responsible for the actions of their children, not government.  Parents.  Government's responsibility ends at the schoolhouse door so to speak.

Even more ridiculous is the search for a "cause" of the bad behavior.  The cause of bad behavior is not a collective concern.  It does not matter if the bully bullies because he or she was bullied, or otherwise have some complaint against the larger world.  The collective has interest only in terminating the bad behavior.

Iowa already has a legal answer to bullying: the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The elements are simple:

1.  Commission of an act so outrageous that it cannot be tolerated in a civilized society.  (There is surely a general consensus that bullying falls within the scope of such prohibited acts).
2.  With the intention of causing extreme emotional distress.
3.  The outrageous conduct causes extreme emotional distress.

If the alleged conduct meets the above criteria then the victims have always had a remedy that requires no new bureaucracy or further dilution of the educational mission.

Only three short paragraphs provide a far more complete and fair remedy for the victims of bullying and to impose liability for bullying on parents and schools that fail to stop bullying that occurs within their knowledge:

1.  The parents or legal guardians of any minor child are liable for actual damages, punitive damages and attorney fees in an action against their child or ward to recover damages caused by their minor child or ward's outrageous conduct toward any other minor child or to obtain injunctive relief from said outrageous conduct.

2.  Schools and individual educators are liable for actual damages, punitive damages and attorney fees in an action to recover damages caused by a student's outrageous conduct toward another student that occurs on school premises, at school activities or through mediums of communication provided by the school or to obtain injunctive relief from said outrageous conduct.

3.  No parent, legal guardian or educational institution, or it or their employees and agents can be liable for outrageous conduct that ocurred without their  knowledge.

No new social workers, no new reporting requirements.  No bureaucratic intrusion into family relationships.  No dilution of the educational mission.  Just imposition of responsibility for the conduct of children on the people that are supposed to have control over that behavior; educators and parents. 

A non-bureaucratic approach also imposes responsibility for vindicating the rights of a purported victim of bullying where the rights of all victims have been vindicated-on the individual victim themselves.  Moreover such an approach allows the community to define the conduct it will not tolerate through the jury system, the same system that has worked since long before the United States had a constitution to define political rights and limit the permissible reach of government.

Most modern problems can be solved without resort to extending the permissible reach of government.  The conservative's responsibility is to offer such traditional remedies as the American Constitutional system already provides to new problems.   Otherwise the liberal progressives take the battlefield of ideas by default.  And that means giving government, the biggest bully of all, an even bigger fist with which to threaten everyone.

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