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NY near deal to combat cyber bullies

New York is close to a legislative deal to crack down on cyber bullying in schools and through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. AP Images

ALBANY — New York could announce as early as this week a legislative deal to crack down on cyber bullying in schools and through social media, according to a state official closed to the private negotiations.

The official told The Associated Press that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver are planning to pass the measure by the end of the regular session June 21. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal isn’t yet final.

The bill combines measures sought by the Assembly’s Democratic majority and the Senate’s Republican majority. The Assembly stresses prevention and awareness, particularly in schools. The Senate also requires reporting and provides immunity from civil lawsuits for “good-faith” reporting of cyber bullying.

The proposed education laws are backed up by criminal laws under which the behavior can be prosecuted.

“We are hopeful an agreement can be reached to address the very serious problem of cyber-bullying,” Michael Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Each chamber seeks to crack down in threatening, taunting or insulting e-mails, instant messages and postings to social media including Facebook.

More than 30 states, including New York, have some laws targeting “cyber harassment” and most also have laws focusing on stalking through the Internet, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But the measures differ greatly.

“Many states have enacted “cyber stalking” or “cyber harassment” laws,” NCSL stated. “Recent concerns about protecting minors from online bullying or harassment have led states to enact ‘cyberbullying’ laws.”

Although threatening or harassing behavior has long been covered in law, specific laws regarding abuse of the internet can make enforcement easier, according to NCSL.

New York Sen. Stephen Saland, a Poughkeepsie Republican, said he pushed his part of the cyber bullying package because fear and abuse has impeded instruction, “and, in some cases, severely impeded.”

The measure is fueled by cases such as the 15-year-old Staten Island girl two days after Christmas. A witness said they say Amanda Diane Cummings jump in front of a city bus. A relative told the Staten Island Advance that she was tormented by bullies, inappropriate Facebook messages and was dealing with a romantic breakup. New York City police said she was carrying a suicide note when she was struck, and died soon after.

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell has sought to add cyber bullying to the Dignity for All Students Act passed in 2010, which outlaws harassment and requires schools to produce and enforce codes of conduct.

His bill defines bullying as creating “a hostile environment by conduct or by verbal threats, intimidation or abuse conveyed in any manner” including electronic messages.

“Egregious incidents of bullying, both in person and through the use of technology, continue to plague all of our students,” the Senate’s version of the bill states. “The Legislature recognizes that bullying manifests in many forms and for innumerable reasons … While the physical wounds may heal, the effects of bullying can last a lifetime.”