The Senate Education Committee passed Senate Study Bill 1099 out of committee on Wednesday. The lone Democrat to vote in support of the bill was Sen. Herman Quirmbach. All Republicans on the committee supported the bill as it passed 11-4.
It’s a bill that relates to protecting public forms of expression and association at Iowa community colleges and regent universities. It allows any person who wishes to engage in noncommercial expressive activities that are not unlawful or disruptive.
Amendment 222 passed on the same 11-4 vote. The amendment altered some of the language in the bill and removed the idea of conduct from the proposed law.
“I’ll give you a 99 percent,” Quirmbach said to Sen. Amy Sinclair, who managed the bill through the committee. “The bill is protection for free speech on campus. This is something I have believed in since forever. I started in college 50 years ago last fall and was a free speech guy long before that.”
Quirmbach acknowledged instances in Iowa and nationally that were high profile instances where certain speakers were denied an opportunity to speak.
“I think that’s a mistake, especially for college campuses,” he said. “Really a mistake for a free society.”
Restricting speech based on time, place and manner, Quirmbach said, but not viewpoint.
“You can’t say yes to the lefties and no to the righties,” he said.
Quirmbach, a college professor of 30 years, said he does have concern, though. Student organizations received public dollars. Students are required to pay student activity fees and those fees are given to recognized student organizations.
Strings are attached to those dollars, Quirmbach said. He cited the state’s equal opportunity law that prohibits discimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“For an organization that accepts public dollars, it is reasonable they have to comply with state law,” Quirmbach said. “So it boils down to page four of the bill.”
The bill requires leaders to affirm or agree to the student organization’s beliefs or standards of conduct or further the organization’s mission. Quirmbach took exception with the phrase standard of conduct.
The amendment made the bill better as it took plugged in “abide by the student organization’s beliefs as those beliefs interpreted and applied by the organization.”
“That’s better,” Quirmbach said. “But the words abide by are still a little bit problematic.”
He asked Sen. Sinclair if she’d support an amendment to replace “abide by” with the word “support.”
Sinclair said she believed that would work on the floor of the Senate.
Democrat Senators Claire Celsi, Jeff Danielson, Jackie Smith and Zach Wahls voted against the bill.