Idaho lawmaker will attempt to pass bill to prohibit and punish Internet harassment

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 | 1:35 p.m. CDT; updated 3:42 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 8, 2009

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Idaho Rep. Stephen Hartgen says he will try again to win approval for a bill designed to prohibit and punish Internet harassment.

Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, says ongoing cases of cyberbullying being reported nationwide show it's time for Idaho to expand its anti-harassment statutes into online communication, including e-mails, text messaging and comments posted on blogs and social networking Web sites.

A former newspaper publisher, Hartgen cites a 2006 case in Missouri involving a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide after getting taunts online from a woman posing as a teenager. The case prompted Missouri lawmakers to update their laws related to harassing communications.

"There have been quite a few cases this year of cyberbullying noted around the country of one kind or another," Hartgen told the Twin Falls' Times-News. "You'd like to have a tool in place that could deal with that."

Earlier this year, Idaho lawmakers rejected Hartgen's first attempt to modify the state's telephone harassment laws to include online communication. Despite backing from law enforcement and prosecutors, the bill failed to win support in the House Judiciary Committee, prompting Hartgen to withdraw it in March.

Committee members questioned if Idaho's decades-old telephone statute was so poorly written that expanding it to criminalize repeated annoying Internet messages would make it worse.

This time, Hartgen said the legislation will fall under a new section of law rather than being tied to the telephone statute.

He said the bill wouldn't affect public speech or voters contacting their public officials.

But at least one House Democrat, Rep. Wendy Jacquet, has reservations, and wonders if including text messaging makes the bill too broad. Jacquet, D-Ketchum, opposed the bill last year in part because she contends it's a matter better handled by the federal government.

"I'd like to hear from school people and people who work with young people about the problems," she said.

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