State House approves anti-bullying bill, now headed to Senate

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HARRISBURG, PA(WPMT) An anti-bullying bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Marsico(R-Dauphin Co.) takes a major step toward becoming law.  House Bill 229, which would create the offense of cyber harassment of a child, won approval in the House.

The bill 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. This 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.

“The Judiciary Committee held hearings on the problem of bullying last session. We heard from children who have been victims, along with child mental health experts and school administrators,” said Marsico. “We have laws on the books that prohibit harassment, of course. But those laws were written long ago. The hearings we held made clear those laws are inadequate to address bullying in the electronic age. It is time for our statutes to catch up with the technology that has changed the bully’s playing field.

Marsico’s bill would make cyber harassment of a child a misdemeanor. Jurisdiction over a perpetrator under the age of 18 will lie with the Juvenile Court. Unlike the magisterial district courts, juvenile courts address offenses by young people through principles of balanced and restorative justice. Rehabilitation, acceptance of responsibility and restoration of the victim are the primary focus of the juvenile system.

The groups that supported this bill were: The National Character Education Foundation, the PA District Attorneys Association, the PA Office of Attorney General, the PA Juvenile Judges Commission, the PA Chiefs of Police, PA Office of the Victim Advocate, PA Coalition Against Rape and the PA State Police.

House Bill 229 will now go the Senate for further consideration.