When Pennsylvania House lawmakers return to Harrisburg for the fall session, a proposal on cyber bullying awaits.
The plan to criminalize online communication that disparages or threatens children passed unanimously out of a House committee last spring.
While laws alone won't eliminate online harassment, said bill sponsor Rep. Ron Marsico, the Legislature is not overstepping its bounds in efforts to criminalize it.
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"The consequences can be ... very devastating to a child. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has characterized cyber bullying as an emergency public health problem," said Marsico, R-Dauphin.
At a recent hearing, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association voiced support for the plan, but said it should be changed to ensure that anyone prosecuted under it must be shown to have a malicious intent.
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the legislation, saying it isn't constitutional to censor free speech online just because it is mean-spirited and directed at a child.
State law addresses only general harassment and harassing text messages that are sexually explicit.