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County targets cyberbullying; Local legislation will help, but state should develop comprehensive law

Score one for children and students, as the Erie County Legislature unanimously approved a new local law that should make cyberbullies think twice.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz should sign it, and add his voice to those who want the state to devise a meaningful, comprehensive law that threads together the patchwork of county laws across the state.

Meanwhile, kudos to Erie County Legislator Edward A. Rath III who, along with former legislator and now Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, last year proposed a county law that would make cyberbullying a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

The new proposal would make cyberbullying an unclassified misdemeanor, which means that most cases against children under 18 would be handled in Family Court and would not result in jail time.

Rath spoke after the Legislature's unanimous vote about the tragedy in his district in September 2011, when Williamsville North High School freshman Jamey Rodemeyer killed himself after complaining about bullying and cyberbullying that had gone on for years.

While police determined that there was nothing criminally prosecutable around Jamey's death, it was clear something had to be done on the legislative level to deter cyberbullies. Technology has opened the door to an intense sort of bullying that is far different from the days when tormentors could be left at the school building. Nowadays, the Internet allows for 24-hour reach, and bullies take full advantage.

A couple of years ago, the New York State Legislature passed the Dignity for All Students Act, which will take effect on July 1. That law is an important advance in the fight, but it does not address bullying through text messages, emails and social media. Several counties in the state have passed stricter laws against cyberbullying, and now Erie County has added its name to that list.

Again, a stronger statewide law is needed that will address the modern ways in which most kids communicate and, in unfortunate cases, torment.

In the meantime, the Erie County Legislature has gone a long way in making today's cyberbullying less attractive to those who might believe there are no real consequences. Time to make it official.