Caution over proposed cyber bullying law
An Ulster County legislator is urging a cautious approach to a proposed county law that would make cyber bullying against minors a crime.
Jonathan Heppner, DWoodstock, said it would “not be helpful to throw an unclassified misdemeanor at a 16-year-old and just have them sit for a year on probation — no intervention, no type of program or counseling available to them. What are we achieving?”
The proposal, put forth by Democratic County Executive Michael Hein in January and sponsored in the Legislature by Chairman Ken Ronk, R-Wallkill, states offenders age 16 or older without a previous record would be guilty of a unclassified misdemeanor, while repeat violators could be found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and subject to penalties identified in state law, including up to a year in jail. Offenders younger than 16 would be prosecuted in Family Court.
A person would be guilty of cyber bullying, the proposal states, when he or she uses electronic devices or social media with the “intent to harass, abuse, intimidate, torment or otherwise inflict emotional harm on a minor.”
The law would include making public and information that someone “reasonably should know ... will cause harm to the minor’s reputation or the minor’s relationships with the minor’s parents, family members, friends, peers, employers, and school administrators and faculty.”
“I totally support the intent,” Heppner said at a Democratic caucus this week, “but I feel like we’re rushing ahead without the infrastructure in place to actually address the real issue at hand.”
Legislator David Donaldson, D-Kingston, voiced concern that the impact would be limited to offenses committed within the county.
“If you’re from Dutchess County and you’re doing this, you’re not really accountable,” he said.