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Ulster County, N.Y.'s Cyberbullying Law Supplements School-Based Anti-Bullying Efforts

Proponents say the law is necessary to protect kids outside of school, while opponents argue for better "diagnosis and diversion" rather than jail time.

(TNS) -- KINGSTON — The Ulster County Legislature passed a law Wednesday night giving victims of cyberbullying in the county a new way to fight back.

A year in the making, the local law passed 18-5, easily more than the majority of the 23 legislators needed. It was originally proposed by County Executive Mike Hein, who, as such, is expected to sign the legislation.

Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk said the law supplements the state's school-based anti-bullying efforts.

"What do we do for a kid home on summer break? We need something to protect students outside of school," he said.

Once in effect, the law covers electronic communications — including computer, tablet or phone — designed to "harass, abuse, intimidate, torment or otherwise inflict emotional harm" on someone under the age of 18. Those communications include sexual images or information. Suspects face a misdemeanor, with a possible fine of up to $1,000 and as much as a year in jail.

Some critics said the law will funnel more young persons into what they called the "school to prison pipeline."

"This law does nothing to get at the root of the problem," Democratic Legislator Tracey Bartels said in voting against the legislation. "We, as a county, need to do better at diagnosis and diversion."

In his 'no' vote, Kingston Democratic Legislator David Donaldson said there are more effective approaches than that in the legislation. "When we work with schools, we can do better," he said. "Teenagers don't change their habits by us passing laws."

John Parete, another Democrat, voted against the law and called it unenforceable. "I think we are making a mistake," he said.

Ronk said the legislation is constitutional. In his speech to the Legislature earlier, Ronk said. "It is my sincere hope that the law passes as written tonight, and we can all go home tonight knowing that we may have saved the lives of children suffering from this blight on our society."

Late Wednesday, Ronk praised supporters of the law. "Young victims of cyber-bullying now have a voice," he said in a post on his Facebook page.

©2017 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.