On March 28, 2014, Mountain States Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Scott L. Levin sent a letter regarding HB14-1131, “A Bill for An Act Concerning Harassment Against A Minor By Using An Interactive Computer Service,” or cyberbullying, to the members of the Colorado State Senate Judiciary Committee. The letter objected to the criminal penalties for cyberbullying contained in the bill.
In his letter, Levin wrote:
“On behalf of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), we applaud your efforts to deal with the problem of cyberbullying; however, we must urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to oppose HB14-1131, “A Bill for An Act Concerning Harassment Against A Minor By Using An Interactive Computer Service,” when it is brought to a vote.
Founded a century ago, ADL is the nation’s premier civil rights and human relations agency fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and discrimination. To that end, ADL is a national leader in anti-bullying advocacy and education. Through its A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute anti-bias and anti-bullying educational programs, ADL has seen the importance of addressing bullying in a proactive manner. ADL also advocates for comprehensive, strong anti-bullying laws and policies on the federal, state, and school levels, and has drafted a model bullying prevention law that is intended to combat, respond to, and prevent bullying and cyberbullying.
HB14-1131 would create a new statute criminalizing “cyberbullying.” Although this legislation is undoubtedly well-intentioned, it is unnecessary and could do more harm than good for the children of our state. We do not believe that passing new laws that criminalize cyberbullying is an effective way to address the problem. Student misconduct should not be an automatic ticket to an arraignment. As proposed, the bill promotes the all-too-common pipeline that sends children from the school house to the jail house.
First, this law is unnecessary. Statutes already exist that criminalize egregious behavior. For example, Colorado has harassment and stalking laws that may be applicable. We are confident that law enforcement will respond appropriately when the facts warrant arrest or prosecution.
Second, this law is inconsistent with principles recently affirmed by the Legislature for schools. As you likely recall, the Legislature went to extensive efforts to adopt and amend C.R.S. Section 22-32-109.1 as recently as last year. Among other things, this statute requires schools to have a school safety plan that addresses both bullying and internet safety. Last year’s legislation recognized the importance of avoiding the criminalization of most student misconduct. According to subsection (2)(K)(II), in creating and enforcing a school conduct and discipline code, school district boards of education must “impose proportionate disciplinary interventions and consequences . . . [which] are designed to reduce the number of expulsions, out-of-school suspensions, and referrals to law enforcement.” Criminalizing cyberbullying, as this bill does, is contrary to these principles so recently adopted.
Colorado’s anti-bullying law prohibits bullying and requires school districts to include specific policies regarding bullying, including setting forth appropriate disciplinary consequences for bullying. Instead of creating new laws to criminalize the behavior of students, we believe that schools must be allowed to develop the strategies and enact the policies anticipated by C.R.S. Section 22-32-109.1 to teach children about cyberbullying and its impact. There is certainly room for improvement, including strengthening and adding key components to the existing anti-bullying law, improving schools’ enforcement of it, and implementing better educational and training programs, but criminalizing cyberbullying is not the answer.
We believe that inclusive, school-based laws, policies, and practices, rather than new criminal laws, should be the focal point for addressing and preventing bullying and cyberbullying. Criminalizing cyberbullying is not in the best interests of our children or our state. Passing this bill will only lead to kids leaving school with a record instead of a diploma. It is simply not the solution.
As a result of ADL’s concerns, along with those of several other organizations, the Colorado State Senate Judiciary Committee voted to postpone the measure indefinitely, and to introduce more focused legislation at a later date.