House takes a solid step in combatting cyber harassment

I am happy to let you know that the state House of Representatives has taken a strong step toward protecting our school-aged children from cyber-bullying with the passage of H.B. 229 Monday afternoon.


House Bill 229, introduced by my colleague from Dauphin County, Rep. Ron Marsico, would make harassment of a child by electronic communication a third-degree misdemeanor. I am proud to have co-sponsored this bill, as well as a similar bill that Marsico introduced in the 2013-14 legislative session.


This bill would make it a crime to threaten a child through electronic communication. Repeatedly commenting on a child's sexual orientation, sexual activity, mental health or physical characteristics would also be treated as a crime.


Raising the crime to a third-degree misdemeanor would allow actual prosecution of adults in court, not just a summary citation and fine. Youth charged under the proposed rules could be referred to juvenile court or even entered in a diversionary program.


This bill recognizes that bullying has changed dramatically since I was in school. While words and threats and occasional violence were used against children, the advent of electronic communication has opened a new avenue of harassment.


The proliferation of cell phones, iPads and notebook computers means almost constant interaction between peers 24-7 and postings on many different social media platforms. Most of these devices also have cameras that can lead to further humiliation, embarrassment and even sexually unwanted postings and texts.


We need to make the perpetrators of these crimes accountable for their actions. Actions which, in 2009, led to almost one out of every five Pennsylvania school students to report some type of bullying on school grounds; more than one in 10 to considers suicide, and one out of every 20 students admits missing school due to fear within a 30-day period.


This is unacceptable.


Our students need a strong, supportive school community to grow to their fullest potential. Their futures, as well as the future of Pennsylvania, is in the hands of the next generation. This bill is a step in the right direction. I am calling on the state Senate to pass the bill and move it on for the governor's signature.


State Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Allegheny, represents the 38th Legislative District, which includes West Mifflin, Dravosburg, Glassport, Liberty, Port Vue, Pleasant Hills, Whitehall, and parts of Baldwin Borough and South Park.