Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tackling Bullying Think Hard before Criminalizing the Behavior

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tackling Bullying Think Hard before Criminalizing the Behavior

Article excerpt

The following CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION appeared on December 14, 2019. Brandon Markosek is a Democratic state representative from Monroeville. An editorial Friday on bullying contained an incorrect political party affiliation for him.

A legislative effort to create the crime of "bullying" is under way in Pennsylvania. It's an effort with the backing of prosecutors, but that is not enough. Lawmakers must seek input from educators and juvenile justice professionals, then generally proceed with caution on an issue of serious consequence.

House Bill 2053, a bipartisan measure co-sponsored by state Rep. Brandon Markosek, D-Monroeville, would add bullying to Pennsylvania's crimes code as a third-degree misdemeanor. It would define the new crime as acting with the intent to "harass, annoy, alarm or intimidate another individual or group of individuals; or place another individual or group of individuals in fear of personal injury or property damage."

The bill is aimed at addressing the most egregious cases of bullying. It contains addendums that would upgrade by a degree any other crime charged along with bullying. Lawmakers must ensure the law is written tightly enough that police and prosecutors can use it only in the most extreme cases.

The proposal's prime sponsor, state Rep. Kyle Mullins, a Lackawanna County Democrat, said this measure is needed because prosecutors have told him that charges currently available to them in bullying situations generally limit penalties to a fine. Mr. Mullins contends that, under his bill, another, better option would be available. "The offender could be charged with a misdemeanor," he said, "meaning that if he or she is a juvenile, they can get necessary treatment and resources needed to rehabilitate them."

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association backs the bill and believes treatment would be the outcome for a juvenile adjudicated under its provisions. Greg Rowe, the association's director of legislation and policy, said the state's justice system for minors is geared toward rehabilitation. …

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