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Bill would prohibit school activities, classes on Iowa Caucus night

Iowa State Capitol (Photo: Caroline Cummings)

A proposal at the Iowa statehouse would bar schools from scheduling extra-curricular activities and classes on the night of the presidential caucuses in an effort to boost turnout.

Sen. Robb Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said he introduced the bill to encourage participation, especially among students, in the first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest in Iowa.

He said extra curricular activities, classes and sports practices shouldn't conflict with the caucuses, which is why the bill would prohibit schools from scheduling these activities after 6 p.m. on caucus night.

The proposed changes would apply to public and nonpublic schools, regents universities, community colleges and other post-secondary institutions that receive state grants and scholarships.

“I’ve had too many students over the years tell me they can’t participate in the caucuses because of school or extra curricular activities," Hogg said. "If want to do it best, we need to make sure students and people associated with our schools can participate in the caucus process.”

The 2020 caucuses are scheduled for February 3. Hogg said introducing a bill this year ensures schools have enough time to plan ahead and avoid scheduling events that evening, but conceded he got some "push back" when he floated the idea on social media, where users said schools were already crafting their calendars for next year.

“That's the reason why we need to do this now to get the idea out there to make sure people keep February 3, 2020 on their calendars is clear," he said.

He also noted as a result of the proposal there would be more facilities available for precinct meetings.

State parties are at the helm organizing the caucuses and neither the Iowa Democratic Party or Iowa GOP had heard of the proposal Monday.

But Iowa GOP Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann said although he supports encouraging caucus participation, he is hesitant about a proposal like this.

"I don’t know we have to tell universities they can’t do this or they can’t do that," said Kaufmann, who said he'd still keep an open mind about the idea. "These are party activities that the parties want their members to come out and participate in. I don't think I'd be supportive of a mandate to do that."

“If it did become a problem and the two parties were ignoring that problem, or if educational institutions were some how discouraging participation, I would certainly be open to that discussion," Kaufmann said.

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price didn't immediately return requests for comment Monday.

The bill was assigned a preliminary review from lawmakers, though no subcommittee meeting date has been scheduled yet.

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