Bill aimed at punishing cyber bullying poised to become law

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HARRISBURG, Pa. – Legislation aimed at putting a stop to cyber bullying of children is on its way to the governor’s desk, said Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin), prime sponsor of the measure.

“Bullying causes serious emotional distress to children of all ages, and in some cases it has turned deadly when the child victim takes his or her own life,” Marsico said. “Cyber space appears to have emboldened bullies and made the problem much more pervasive. It’s time to take our fight against it up a notch.”

House Bill 229 would make cyber harassment of a child a punishable offense. Cyber harassment would include the use of electronic communications to repeatedly make statements or offer opinions about a child’s sexuality or sexual activity or make statements about a child’s physical characteristics or mental health that are intended to and would cause serious emotional distress to a child.

The bill would allow intervention by law enforcement and juvenile probation officers who would initially review the case if it involved a juvenile offender. If appropriate, the case could be referred to juvenile court or the juvenile offender could be placed in a diversion program. An adult who engages in such conduct would be prosecuted in court, rather than be issued a summary citation, reflecting the seriousness of this form of child abuse.

“Every child in this Commonwealth has the right to grow up free from intimidation, torment and emotional distress,” Marsico said. “They deserve to grow up in an environment that allows them to focus their energy on achieving their full potential.”

The bill is supported by The National Character Education Foundation, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, the Pennsylvania Juvenile Judges Commission, the Juvenile Law Center, the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, Pennsylvania Office of the Victim Advocate, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the Pennsylvania State Police.

House Bill 229 passed the Senate unanimously on Monday and now awaits the governor’s signature to become law.