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Texas House self-reflects as it passes cyberbullying bill

The Texas House on Friday passed a Senate bill that would crack down on cyberbullying in schools.

A few House members shed tears as they delivered speeches about monitoring children’s online activities, preventing child deaths that result from bullying and about being kind to one another. The words on kindness were particularly poignant for some members as the Texas House this session has frequently engaged in heated debates on divisive issues such as immigration, abortion and transgender rights.

“It is time to treat each other with respect and that starts here in this House,” said state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, speaking in favor of the bill. “You can disagree with my policy but to attack me personally, it’s not acceptable. And the same standard goes for me in my interaction with you. We have to set the example here. It’s how we treat each other. It’s how we walk. It’s how we talk. It’s how we listen to seek to understand to make a difference.”

Senate Bill 179, filed by Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, would require public schools to create cyberbullying policies and establish methods for students to anonymously report cyberbullying. School administrators would have 24 hours to tell a victim’s parents about reports of bullying, and they also would be required to inform a bully’s parents if an investigation confirms a violation.

The bill also creates a criminal offense, starting with a class B misdemeanor but rising to a class A misdemeanor for those previously convicted of cyberbullying or if the bullying was directed toward a victim under age 18 with the intent to provoke suicide or self-harm.

The bill, which the House approved 130 to 11 on Friday, is named David’s Law, after San Antonio-area David Molak, who at 16, killed himself last year after being relentlessly bullied. The Senate will need to approve the changes the House made to the bill before it goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

During his remarks, Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, held up the funeral card for Brandy Vela, an 18-year-old from Texas City, who shot and killed herself in November in front of her family. Family members have said that she was bullied and stalked.

“I kept it to remind me of why we do what we do here,” Moody said. “Young people aren’t just hurting each other on the playground these days. This bill isn’t designed to stifle free speech or criminalize something harmless.”

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