JEFFERSON CITY — Public school students who use text messaging, social networking sites and other electronics to harass and intimidate their peers could find themselves in trouble if a bill heard Wednesday is enacted.
Sen. Yvonne Wilson, D-Kansas City, is sponsoring a bill that would require every school system to enact a bullying policy that includes bullying over electronic communications. She told the Senate Education Committee that cyberbullying has gained prevalence over the past few years as a growing number of teens have access to cell phones and broadband Internet.
In 2008, 71 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 17 had a cell phone, according to a Pew Research study.
Regulations need to keep up with the evolution of bullying, Wilson said. Her measure, however, does not define cyberbullying.
"We are seeing this all over the place, and it's a serious problem," said Wilson, a former school teacher and principal. "If you look in the news, it's a real issue that impacts a lot of people."
One example includes the story of a 15-year-old Irish immigrant who hanged herself in her Boston-area home Jan. 14 after she had been repeatedly insulted by classmates using Facebook and text messages.
One of the first high-profile cases related to cyberbullying happened more than three years ago in Missouri. Megan Meier, 14, hanged herself in her Dardenne Prairie home in 2006 after being repeatedly taunted by a woman posing as an adolescent boy on MySpace.com.
The woman, Lori Drew, was the mother of one of Meier's classmates. She was tried in federal court for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. She was convicted in 2008, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
Wilson said she had not spoken to the Meier family, but her constituents in Jackson County have been overwhelmingly supportive.
"I feel like this bill has the support of everybody," Wilson said. "It's simple, and it's the right thing to do."
Last year, the same legislation passed the state Senate as a unanimous consent bill, but it never came up for a vote in the House before the session ended in May.
Wilson said she hopes that politicians see more urgency in passing a bill she calls noncontroversial.
"All of the opposition has been procedural and not based on the bill itself," she said. "I would like to think that legislators will — if nothing else — see the good that can come politically from passing this."