Certainly, it is the duty of a school district to ensure student safety and a bully-free environment conducive to learning. Merrill’s anti-bullying policy already includes prohibitions on cyber-bullying for both students and employees, as do most others. Should such an incident occur, the complaint is referred to appropriate law enforcement agencies. Senate Bill 427, is an unnecessary and unwarranted trespass by the state into the authority of local school boards.
The requirement in SB427 of school districts to prepare annual bullying reports only adds another layer of bureaucracy while increasing the paperwork burden through the tracking and compiling of this data – along with increased costs – so becomes another unfunded mandate.
Exactly what constitutes “appropriate responses to bullying that occurs off school grounds”? Public schools have no legal authority over students off-campus, and especially not in the privacy of a student’s home, using their own computer. Yet this bill would begin to blur that line. Whose job is it to determine if the so-called bullying incident “infringes on the rights of the pupil”, especially when the bill’s authors seek to lower the threshold of what behavior constitutes an illegal bullying incident?
“Section 6. 947.0125 (3) (a) of the statutes is amended to read: 947.0125 (3) (a) With intent to harass, annoy, or offend another person, sends a message to the person on an electronic mail or other computerized communication system or posts a message electronically where other persons can view the message and in that sent or posted message uses any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggests any lewd or lascivious act.”–excerpt from Wisconsin 2011 Senate Bill 427, proposed new language in bold text
Per state law, Wisconsin Statute 947.0125(3)(a) indicates it only takes an “intent to harass, annoy, or offend another person” and if “profane language” is used, the standard is met to consider such actions criminal bullying. Because current statutory language reads: “…any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggests any lewd or lascivious act.” instead of “…and suggests”, the inclusion of a swear word in an internet communication can become an illegal act. SB427 further compounds the senselessness of this law by elevating the act of posting such a message to the internet – without directing it any particular person – a new crime! The Class B forfeiture is punishable by a fine up to $1,000. How absurd!
If what a person says online can be controlled to the extent of declaring profane or lewd comments which annoy or offend another as illegal, why limit it to electronic or computerized means of communication? What about speech exercised during protests? Couldn’t the noise and chanting be considered annoying and some of the messages voiced, offensive?
It’s only when we protect the free speech rights of those with whom we may disagree that we remain free. SB427 adds bear grease to an already slippery slope towards the elimination of free speech for all.
It should be pointed out SB427 wouldn’t just affect students and it really isn’t about cyber-bullying, either. Clearly, it is a back-door attempt to abridge everyone’s right to free speech on the internet. This unconstitutional bill was introduced by Wisconsin State Senators Tim Cullen, Spencer Coggs, Tim Carpenter, Jon Erpenbach, Lena Taylor, Jessica King, Dale Schultz, Fred Risser, Neal Kedzie and our own Jim Holperin. Cosponsors are Representatives Joe Knilans, Chris Taylor, Mark Pocan, Robert Turner, Anthony Staskunas, Janis Ringhand, Amy Loudenbeck, Sandy Pasch and Sondy Pope-Roberts.
Will SB427 mark the beginning of the end for free speech on the internet? I provided testimony against SB427 at last week’s Senate hearing in Madison and encourage readers to likewise exercise their right to free speech in contacting these Wisconsin legislators, asking them to withdraw support. Also, please contact your state Senator urging a “NO” vote on SB427 and a redraft of Statutes 947.0125 to protect free speech.