A bill strengthening Texas’ rules against cyberbullying is one step closer to becoming law.
The Texas Senate voted unanimously May 2 to approve Senate Bill 179 by state Sen. Jose Menéndez.
The bill is known as “David’s Law,” after San Antonio-area teenager David Molak who killed himself after being bullied by classmates in 2016.
“I believe we have the responsibility to act before more children take their lives,” Menéndez said. “The bullies now are on our children’s phones and on their computers.
Before the vote, Menéndez read the names of teenagers who have killed themselves after being bullied. That list included Brandy Vela, the Texas City High School senior who killed herself in November.
Two people have been arrested in connection to the harassment Vela faced in the months leading up to her death.
The bill makes cyberbullying — defined as bullying through the use of electronic devices — a misdemeanor. It also allows courts to issue subpoenas for people who are anonymously harassing minors online.
Schools would be required to adopt cyberbullying policies.
Before it was approved, senators changed language that would criminalize “suicide baiting,” the act of urging people to kill themselves. The amendment clarified that such speech is a Class A misdemeanor if it’s done with the intent to provoke the victim to commit suicide.
The senate also removed a provision that would have allowed families to recover civil damages for physical, emotional and mental injuries.
Texas has several laws that address some types of online harassment such as revenge porn and online impersonation, but Menéndez said the state lacks a law to address other types of bullying.
“We must do everything we can to keep our children safe,” said Sen. Donna Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican. “If we can save just one life with this bill, that in itself is worth it.”
In a break from the usual custom, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick allowed each member of the Senate to make a voice vote for the bill.
The bipartisan vote, which came before the Senate entered into a controversial debate over a sanctuary cities bill, was a moment that could make “everyone proud,” Patrick said.
The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where a version of it has already been heard and reported favorably by a committee.