Courtesy / Ina Minjarez
State Sen. José Menéndez (D-26) and Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-124) filed David’s Law, aimed at combating cyberbullying, at the State Capitol on Monday afternoon.
The bill will be considered by lawmakers in the 85th legislative session and is expected to receive bipartisan support.
The filing comes 10 months after David Molak, a 16-year-old Alamo Heights High School student, took his own life on Jan. 4 after months of online harassment. David’s Law was developed by teams from the offices of Menéndez and Minjarez in collaboration with Molak’s family and the family of Matthew Vasquez, a young man with leukemia who was able to find the help he needed to “recover from the mental torment” of cyberbullying, according to a news release.
“I really want to thank the families,” Menéndez said during a press conference in Austin that was livestreamed on Facebook by the David’s Legacy Foundation. “The Families who’ve suffered a tragedy that I hope never befalls any family. They are channeling their sacrifice, their anguish, their grief into a tremendous courage – and, God willing, into change.”
School district and law enforcement officials have also played a role in developing several measures included in David’s Law. The current law, officials told Menéndez, is “not sufficient for the (families) to find justice or end the bullying.”
- It will require school districts to include cyberbullying polices in their district polices on bullying and notify parents if their child has been the victim of bullying or is the alleged aggressor.
- It will require school districts to develop a system to anonymously report bullying and threats.
- It will give school districts the ability to investigate bullying off campus if it materially affects the school environment and it will allow schools and law enforcement to collaborate on investigations.
- It will give school districts greater latitude to place students in a disciplinary alternative education program or to expel students for certain very serious bullying behavior such as coercing a child into committing or attempting to commit suicide.
- It will allow law enforcement, through subpoenas, an increased ability to unmask anonymous social media users who send threatening messages or make threatening posts.
- It will make it a misdemeanor to electronically harass or bully anyone under the age of 18 through text messages, social media, websites, apps, or other means. This section was modeled after Gracie’s Law in Maryland.
- It will focus on providing additional counseling and rehabilitation services to the victim and the aggressor.
“We are open to any suggestions of change on the bill or any amendments,” Minjarez said. “This is a bipartisan bill, this is not one that we are pushing for political reasons. We have an obligation to take care of our children.”
Suicide was the third most common cause of death for U.S. children ages 5-14 in 2014. For 15- to 24-year-olds, suicide is the second, according to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Children are more likely to die from suicide than they are from a car crash,” Menéndez said. “And that is unbelievably disturbing.”
David’s parents, Matt and Maurine Molak, also addressed reporters who gathered at the State Capitol. Matt described the degrading, humiliated attacks his son experienced online.
“This form of bullying is not the same as what we experienced growing up,” he said. “The big difference is this follows you home, there’s no escape. Children today are attached to their phones.”
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Nov. 14, 2016.