Pennsylvania House Passes Cyber Bullying Legislation

Representative Mike O'Brien

Representative Mike O’Brien

This afternoon, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed legislation that would make cyber-bullying a crime in the Commonwealth. More from a press release I received from one of the co-sponsor’s of the bill, Philadelphia Rep. Mike O’Brien:

Under the bill (H.B. 229), a person would commit cyber harassment of a child if he or she repeatedly communicates directly to the child online or through publication on social media sites with a threat to inflict harm, or with seriously disparaging statements or opinions about the child’s physical characteristics, sexuality, sexual activity or mental or physical health.

O’Brien said juveniles charged with cyber harassment would be given a path toward becoming responsible adults. In those cases, the court would be required to give first consideration to referring the juvenile to a diversionary program. Juveniles who successfully complete a diversionary program would have their records expunged.

“Bullies have been around forever,” O’Brien said. “But today’s bully has a host of avenues online and through social media in which to mentally torture his or her victim. In addition to the final and heartbreaking act of suicide, cyber bullying is leaving too many young people with emotional scars that ruin their chance for successful and productive lives.

“This legislation is meant to have those young bullies think twice before going online to do their damage, and to give the wayward a chance to rehabilitate into conscientious and compassionate adults if they do.”

The bill would make cyber harassment of a child a third-degree misdemeanor. The venue to prosecute a violation would be at the place where the victim resides.

O’Brien has worked over the past several legislative sessions to address bulling and strengthen anti-bullying programs in schools, as well as hold bullies.

“A criminal record, or the thought of having one, can and will deter some young people, and even adults, from bullying,” O’Brien said. “And if it doesn’t, bullies will be made to pay. It’s time for bullying to be treated like the crime that it is.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.