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Update: Erie County Executive Signs Local Law Making Cyber-Bullying Illegal

March 12, 2012
  •  Expresses serious doubts about enforceability
  • Calls on legislature to work with law enforcement to develop enhanced legislation

Today, March 12, 2012, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz signed the cyber-bullying measure (Local Law Intro. No. 10-2011), which was recently passed by the Erie County (County) Legislature into law.  This proposed legislation was the topic of an alert distributed by Goldberg Segalla on Friday, March 9, 2012 (available here).  However, the county executive expressed serious doubts regarding the enforceability of the law in its current form and called on the legislature to work with local law enforcement officials to develop enhanced legislation.

In a letter to the legislature (available here), Poloncarz wrote:

“Although I have serious doubts that this law can be adequately enforced in its current form…, vetoing this legislation would send the wrong message to our community. Therefore, I will sign it into law but I am calling upon the architects of this local law to work with law enforcement agents, local schools, the District Attorney and the Family Court on this important subject so enhanced and enforceable legislation can be approved by your honorable body in the future.”

On February 16, 2012, the Erie County Legislature unanimously adopted Erie County Local Law Intro. No. 10-2011, which prohibits cyber-bullying minor students in Erie County. As required by Erie County Charter § 205, a public hearing was held on the local law on Friday, March 2, 2012. It was signed by the county executive on March 12, 2012.  The local law does not take effect until it is filed with the New York Secretary of State.  Such filing must take place within twenty days of today — March 12, 2012.

Erie Co. Cyber-Bullying Law Lacks Specifics on Reporting Roles of Schools and Teachers, March 9, 2012

In an earlier alert on this legislation, Goldberg Segalla noted that it raises important questions for educational institutions and other public entities across the county — namely, what the potential reporting roles of school administrators and teachers should be when such incidents occur. It also serves as a reminder for schools and employers in general of the importance of having appropriate policies and programs in place to protect their students or employees and minimize potential liability.

The proposed law defines cyber-bullying as “harassment or bullying accomplished by publishing, communicating or causing a communication to be initiated or displayed through electronic means.” This would include e-mails, text messages, posts on an individual’s blog, or communications through other forms of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. The law also defines “harassment or bullying” as:

A course of conduct or repeated creation and/or the dissemination of, any intentional written, visual, verbal, or physical act or conduct targeting at a specific other person which is severe, persistent, pervasive or repeated, and serves no legitimate purpose and that a reasonable person under the circumstances would know could result in, and does in fact result in:

(a) Placing such other person in actual or reasonable fear of physical harm to himself or herself, or to a member of such person’s immediate family or a third party which whom such person is acquainted; or

(b) Placing such other person in actual or reasonable fear of damage to the property of such person or to a member of such person’s immediate family or a third party with whom such person is acquainted; or

(c) A substantial detrimental effect on such other person’s physical, mental or emotional health.

Click here to view Friday’s alert on this topic.