The Texas House voted 130-to-11 Friday to pass Senate Bill 179, legislation intended to prevent online harassment and punish cyberbullies in public schools.
Also known as “David’s Law,” the bill honors the memory of David Molak, a San Antonio 16-year-old who committed suicide in January 2016 following relentless online harassment. The House sends the bill back to the Senate with minor changes. The original version of S.B. 179 passed in the Senate 31-to-0.
“David’s Law” would mandate school districts create anti-cyberbullying policies, develop systems for students to anonymously report incidents, and allow law enforcement the means to unmask these anonymous online perpetrators, Breitbart Texas reported. A court may reveal the identify of a cyberbully and permit victims to sue in civil court if the parents of the cyberbully had the opportunity to intervene and did not.
S.B. 179 also includes bullying on and off school property, on school buses, and allows courts to issue temporary restraining orders and permanent injunctions. School administrators would have 24 hours to report bullying to the victim’s parents, followed by a report to the bully’s parents.
The bill amends the Texas Education Code and the Penal Code to criminalize the most severe cases where the intent is to push victims to try to harm or kill themselves as a class B misdemeanor, with up to six months in jail. However, the offense becomes a class A misdemeanor, with up to one year in jail, for a previous offender convicted of cyberbullying or if bullying was done to a victim under 18-years-old with the intent that the minor commits suicide or self inflicts serious injury.
Senator Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) led the legislative charge, authoring the bill. Representative Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), who originally wrote the companion House Bill 306, sponsored Menendez’s bill in the lower chamber. Even before the current legislative session, Menendez noted: “Texas laws need to keep pace with evolving technology.” He and Minjares met with the Molak family following David’s suicide. They also met with Matt Vasquez, a teen who survived horrific online bullying while undergoing leukemia treatments.
David’s Law struck a deep chord with lawmakers. When the Senate passed the bill on May 3, Senator Donna Campbell, M.D. (R-New Braunfels), one of the bi-partisan bill’s co-authors, commended Menendez for authoring it “to help children across our state seek relief from relentless bullying.”
In the House, S.B. 179 also resonated when several legislators referenced the November 2016 suicide of Texas City high school senior Brandy Vela. Police said she “tragically committed suicide after enduring several months of relentless cyber-bullying, stalking, and harassment,” Breitbart Texas reported.
Representative Wayne Faircloth (R-Galveston) commented that Vela’s family resides in his district. “Within the last six months, we have had two young people take their lives as a result of the fact that someone else saw it necessary to make themselves feel powerful by demeaning, demoralizing, and driving someone to the brink of extinction,” he said on the House floor. “If we could alleviate for one second the suffering that these families have to endure for the rest of their lives, we should do that.”
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 14, and the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, according to 2015 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide. The CDC found that in suicides from the 10 to 24 year old age range, 81 percent of the deaths were males and 19 percent were females. Also, girls are more likely to report suicide attempts than boys.
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