Cyber bullying legislation will be subject of hearing
A plan to make cyber bullying a misdemeanor with a potential jail sentence had moved forward with the Ulster County Legislature approving a resolution to set a public hearing on the proposed local law.
The measure, unveiled in January by Ulster County Executive Michael Hein, would make it a crime for a person, “with intent to threaten abuse, intimidate, torment or otherwise inflict emotional harm on a minor,” electronically transmit information not of public concern that they know will inflict emotional harm; electronically transmit private sexual information, or photographs or videos of uncovered breasts, buttocks or genitals of another; electronically transmit false sexual information about another; or knowingly appropriate the name or likeness of another.
Legislators this week voted 19-3 to hold a public hearing on the proposed law at 6:10 p.m. Dec. 13. Legislators David Donaldson, D-Kingston, John Parete, D-Boiceville, and Richard Parete, a Democrat from Accord who caucuses with the Republicans, voted against the measure.
As proposed, violators of the law under the age of 16 would be adjudicated as juvenile delinquents and prosecuted in Family Court. Violators over the age of 16 would be charged with a misdemeanor. A first-time offender could be sentenced to probation for the crime; repeat offenders could face jail time.
Hein said he proposed the law because cyber bullying has the potential for “enormous detrimental effects on students.” The legislation, he said, “provides the tools to law enforcement to charge those who engage in cyber bullying activities aimed at inflicting emotional harm.”
Some legislators are concerned the law could turn teenagers into criminals.
“I’d rather not see us create more victims by these kids getting an unclassified misdemeanor,” Donaldson said. “I really think we need education, rehabilitation first.”
That concern was shared by Legislator Daniel Heppner, D-Woodstock, though he said he was satisfied with promises from the Hein administration and legislative leadership that programs will be put in place to give local judges an option other than convicting offenders of a misdemeanor.
“We’re definitely going to work to make sure there are multiple programs available to the judges,” said Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk.
Ronk, R-Wallkill, said the proposed law was amended to require annual reports to the Legislature detailing the number of cases, the ages of the accused, the charges and the dispositions. The reports would be prepared by the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes adult crimes, and the County Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes crimes committed by juveniles.