Cyberbullying bill gets chilly reception from Congress

By David Kravets
Lawmakers gave Rep. Linda Sanchez’s cyberbullying bill a cool reception
Proposed legislation demanding up to two years in prison for electronic speech meant to “coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person” was met with little enthusiasm by a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, a Democrat of California, lobbied fellow lawmakers of a House Judiciary subcommittee to back her proposed legislation dubbed the “Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act.” In its first congressional hearing, Sanchez said the proposal was designed to target the cyberbullying that led to the 2006 suicide of the 13-year-old Meier of Missouri.

“Bullying has gone electronic,” Sanchez testified before the Subcommitttee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. “This literally means kids can be bullies at any hour of the day or the night, or even in the victims’ own home.”

From the outset of the 90-minute hearing, however, committee members from the left and the right said they thought the measure was an unconstitutional breach of free speech. “We need to be extremely careful before heading down this path,” Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia and the committee’s chairman, said during the hearing’s opening moment.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican of Texas, said the legislation “appears to be another chapter of over criminalization.” He quipped, however, that the law could target the “mean-spirited liberals” in the blogosphere that are attacking himself and his family regularly.

About 30 minutes later, Gohmert said that not all prosecutors would exercise good judgment, that they might “harass the harasser.”

“A good prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich,” he said. Full story.


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