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MENTAL HEALTH RALLY: Buoyed by the 98-0 Iowa House passage of a wide-ranging mental health policy bill on Tuesday, more than 75 advocates from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Iowa Hospital Association and the Iowa Medical Society joined forces at the Capitol on Wednesday.

The advocates were drawing attention to an online petition, iowamentalhealth2018.org, calling on the Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds to act on the issue this year. Almost 5,000 Iowans have signed the petition, according to Peggy Huppert, NAMI executive director.

A recent Iowa Poll found that 73 percent of Iowans consider mental health in crisis or a big problem, Huppert said, calling mental health “by far the public policy issue of most concern to Iowans.”

Passage of House File 2456 “got the ball rolling,” said Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholt. “Let’s keep it going.”

The proposal could save lives, said Mary Neubauer, a Clive parent who lost her son to suicide last year. She and her husband, Larry Loss, “fought desperately to get our son the help he needed to recover.”

“I’m not asking them to do anything for me,” she said. “It’s too late for us and for Sergei. I beg of them to make changes in the laws dealing with mental health care as quickly as possible to help others. We have the opportunity to save lives.”

CIVICS TEST PASSES: Legislation to require Iowa students to pass a civics exam to get a high school diploma passed the initial legislative test Wednesday. The Senate voted 38-12 to approve Senate File 2341.

It would put in place a multiple-choice exam that is the same test immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens. Iowa students would have to score 60 percent on the 100-question test to meet the graduation requirement.

“This is not prescriptive. It just illustrates that we think it is very important,” said Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone.

Critics contend the requirement would set up a “high-stakes” test that duplicates social studies curriculum already in place.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, tried unsuccessfully to hold the testing implementation in abeyance until all members of the Iowa Legislature first had passed the exam. The bill now goes to the House.

NO BUS RIDE EXTENSION: Senate File 2137, which would have extended the time students can ride a bus to or from school, reached the end of the line in the Iowa House.

Education Committee Chairman Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, declined to bring the bill up for debate Wednesday, saying it’s not needed.

The 75-minute limit on bus rides is not a law, Rogers said, but a Department of Education rule. Anyone who wants to challenge the rule can ask the legislative Administrative Rules Committee for a review.

“With the understanding we passed home rule last year, I would think they would be in good standing to challenge the rule,” he said.

Rogers said his decision doesn’t reflect whether he considers the 75-minute limit appropriate.

“We don’t need the bill,” he said. It was approved by the Senate, 30-18.

The length of time students spend on buses has been an issue in some geographically large school districts. However, few districts have communicated with him about the bill, Rogers said.

TEACHER OF THE YEAR: April 27 is the deadline to submit applications to the Iowa Department of Education for the 2019 Iowa Teacher of the Year.

The Teacher of the Year serves as an ambassador to education and as a liaison to primary and secondary schools, higher education and organizations across the state.

Aileen Sullivan of the Ames Community School District was named the 2018 Teacher of the Year.

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