The Senate has approved legislation, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Representative Charles Curtiss (D-Sparta), that revises a law passed last year regarding cyberbullying through the use of electronic devices. Senate Bill 2556 removes the words “frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress” to a victim in the state’s current cyberbullying law and replaces them with the word “threaten.”
Ketron said he enlisted the help of Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper and other legal experts in revising the law to meet constitutional muster, while maintaining the focus on deterring bullying through electronic means. The revision limits the offense of harassment by display of an image to cases in which the defendant communicates without legitimate purpose with the intent that it will be viewed by the victim with the malicious intent to threaten them. “It must also be in a manner in which the defendant knows or reasonably should know, would threaten a similarly situated person,” he said.
“Technology has now given way to cyberbullying and electronic messaging, which challenges the traditional schoolyard bullying,” said Senator Ketron. “Various national studies have found approximately 30 to 40 percent of students have reported they had been cyberbullied or had cyberbullied another person at least once. We met with the Attorney General, the American Civil Liberties Union and others to rework last year’s law to address cyberbullying in a constitutional and more narrowly focused manner, while still addressing the problem experienced by too many kids who are victims of this form of bullying.”
The action comes after two children within a thirty-mile radius of metro Nashville committed suicide over the past six months, with indications pointing to cyberbullying. Minors who are found guilty under the cyberbullying law would be subject to 30 days of public service work.
“I believe that this legislation addresses the constitutional concerns put forth last year and goes a step further to promote awareness in schools of the harmful effects of bullying.”
The bill requires each Local Education Agency (LEA), at the beginning of the school year, to provide teachers and school counselors with a copy of the bullying policy and its implementation process, information on prevention and strategies to address bullying and harassment when it happens, as well as relevant training on the issue. Teachers and parents would also be given information relative to bullying prevention and programs to promote awareness of its harmful effects.
Finally, the bill requires annual reports regarding the number of bullying cases brought to the attention of school officials and the manner in which they were resolved or the reason they are pending.
“The reporting provision in the bill will give us a clear picture of how this bill is working and where improvements need to be made,” added Ketron. “I am very pleased it has passed and appreciate all the parties that worked with me to improve our cyberbullying law for the benefit of many Tennessee students.”
The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.