Proposed bill that cleared Texas Senate would criminalize cyberbullying

Posted: 5:32 PM, May 05, 2017
Updated: 2018-07-25 01:30:48Z
Proposed bill that cleared Texas Senate would criminalize cyberbullying

A proposed bill that already cleared the Texas Senate would make cyber bullying a criminal offense.

Senate Bill 179 authored by Sen. José Menéndez (D-26) is called 'David's Law' after David Molak, a 16-year-old who committed suicide in 2016 after being a victim of online harrasment.

"David's Law is an important bill that prevents and combats cyberbullying. It focuses on measures that deter egregious behavior and offers consequences when the bully crosses a line. The Texas Legislature must stand up to bullies and pass Senate Bill 179," Menendez said in a statement.

Under David's Law, school districts may make a report about an incident with the school district police department or local police.

"This will actually give law enforcement some authority to go in. It's [makes it] a class B misdemeanor. It can be enhanced to a class A misdemeanor," Woodway Public Safety Director Yost Zakhary said.

However, he has concerns about how accessible it would be to get the evidence, even with a subpoena.

"The challenge is going to be how hard it would be for this information to get. Unfortunately with some of these iPhones and other devices, we are simply unable to get the information because it's encrypted ," Zakhary said.

School districts would also be required to implement some changes, if the bill becomes law. The board of trustees of a district would be required to adopt policies to prevent and mediate bullying. In addition, districts would have to establish anonymous reporting of bullying incidents.

Central Texas school districts, including Waco ISD already have cyber bullying as a violation of their student code of conduct and this offense can have consequences.

"Whatever legislators decide to vote into being law, we will abide by," Waco ISD spokesman Bruce Gietzen said. "Anything we can do anything to prevent cyber bullying, keep that from happening, if it even saves one life, it's certainly worth doing."

Currently, when reports come in, the investigations are handled at the campus level. However, sometimes those investigations are handled by police.

"If it crosses that line between being cyber bullying and then it becomes a cyber crime, if there is a threat of injury to someone, it does become a criminal offense and then we do get [Waco ISD] Police involved and they investigate," Gietzen said.

Midway ISD Spokeswoman Traci Marlin said the proposed bill would not change much for the district from a preventive standpoint since it already has measures in place to prevent bullying and anonymous reporting is in place.

"If it does occur, it provides a lot more definition, details of the how to follow through can be handled from our end and the criminal justice system," Marlin said.

She said for instance in defines, the amount of time when cyber bullying should be reported.

Marlin added tougher penalties could help deter that behavior.

"Stronger punishments may prevent students from taking things further than what they already are doing and hopefully it will help parents be more involved into what their children are doing online and realizing how serious and severe their actions can be," Marlin said.

The bill would also allow for disciplinary actions, such as placing students who have engaged in bullying behavior to be placed in a disciplinary alternative program or to be expelled. If someone wins a civil lawsuit, it would allow them to recover damages for all physical, mental or emotional injury caused from bullying. 

The bill now moves to the Texas House for consideration.

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