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Taking on the bullies; Albany moves swiftly to combat a problem that puts lives at risk

Legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo agreed last week on a measure meant to attack the problem of bullying. Importantly, that includes the cruel and especially dangerous practice of cyberbullying — use of social media and other electronic means to harass and intimidate others before an audience that may reach into the thousands.

This measure is critical anywhere there are children — or adults with stunted maturity — which is, of course, everywhere. But nowhere is the need felt more painfully than in Western New York, where just nine months ago, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer killed himself after enduring relentless bullying over his sexual orientation.
Since then, and the Christmas time suicide of a 15-year-old girl from Staten Island, Albany has moved at something like lightning speed to attack this problem. The pending legislation represents a sensible compromise and it is gratifying to see that it has moved ahead so quickly.

This is not a new problem. Bullying has been around since someone figured out it made him feel better to torment others. It's as much a part of growing up as breaking up with your first sweetheart.

Bullying always held the risk of undermining some children's sense of self-worth. But that risk has now gone viral and, with that, has metastasized to the point that fatalities are, if not commonplace, no longer an unheard of occurrence.

The pending bill makes at least a good start on attacking this problem. It will require schools to designate an official responsible for prompt action on any reports of cyberbullying, and require schools to coordinate with police "when appropriate." Schools will have to develop a strategy for dealing with cyberbullying and school officials — present and future — will need to be trained to detect and act on instances of cyberbullying.

One area of disagreement was on a proposal by Sen. Jeffrey Klein, D-Bronx, to include in the legislation a criminal charge that he insisted was critical to curbing the behavior among youths.

We understand his position, but we agree with those legislators who resisted taking that step. It could be a mistake to criminalize behavior that, however distressing, is fused with the predictable immaturity of children. If needed, the law can be toughened.

Part of the reason this legislation was drafted and agreed to so quickly was the involvement of the Rodemeyer family, including Jamey's older sister, Alyssa. The insistence on wringing some benefit out of their tragedy will almost certainly help save some other fragile children from Jamey's fate. New Yorkers owe them a debt of thanks.

Too often, Albany and Washington are ensnared in partisan games that are designed to snag votes in the next election, rather than deal with the real problems faced by real people. This time, state leaders found a common ground and did something important.

Congress, take note: This is called compromise. You should try it.