Cau­tion over pro­posed cy­ber bul­ly­ing law

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Wil­liam J. Kem­ble news@free­manon­line.com

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.

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