After receiving online hate, Rep. Fields carries popular anti-cyberbullying bill through House
Today a bill to make cyberbullying a misdemeanor got its first round of approval from the House. Representative Rhonda Fields of Aurora, HB 1131‘s primary sponsor, said she understands how damaging online bullying can be to kids because she’s experienced it herself as an adult.
Last session was tense for legislators at the center of political intrigue, which included gun-control bills and the ‘chicken-gate’ scandal from Fort Collins Senator Vicki Marble’s comments linking poverty and obesity. It was a tricky time to be online for Fields, who was involved in both public debates — she advocated for gun control and she called out her colleague for making racially charged statements about what minority groups eat.
“You see the terms on Facebook and Twitter and they live on and on and on. It was racial intimidation, the way I was bullied. I was called the n-word repeatedly,” Fields said on the floor today, advocating for her bill to make cyberbulling a crime.
“When young people are bullied they don’t have the intellectual capacity or emotional maturity to handle the things that are said to and about them,” she said.
To change a culture of spiraling online meanness, HB 1131 would make cyberbullying a misdemeanor: level two for general bullying and a more serious level one when victims are targeted because of “immutable factors” such as race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.
The bill passed out of the House Education Committee unanimously after emotional youth testimony and astonishing statistics indicating that the one in four kids who experience cyberbullying are twice as likely to commit suicide as their peers.
Despite sailing through Education, debate on the bill heated up rapidly in the House, with one representative after another taking the floor to recount their own experiences with bullying. Turns out Colorado’s elected officials have been bullied for just about everything — bullied for being tall, for being short, for being Jewish, black, latino, gay, red-headed, female, or taking special education courses. While members of the House unanimously agree that bullying is hugely damaging, all don’t see eye-to-eye on how to legislate against it.
Rep. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs proposed an amendment to make any kind of cyberbully, regardless of their motivation, guilty of the stricter level one misdemeanor. He said having a different standard for “immutable characteristics” like race or gender was a false distinction when it comes to victim impact.
“Socioeconomic class may not be considered immutable under the law, but it’s pretty immutable when you’re ten years old,” Gardner said, recounting his father’s experience being bullied for living and working on a farm while in school.
“Hate is hate is hate is hate,” Gardner said.
Rep. Perry Buck of Windsor supported the amendment, saying was repeatedly bullied by girls at school who would pull out her earrings and even threaten her life based not so much on Buck’s inherent characteristics but on sheer meanness. With the bill as drafted, Buck noted, her bullying would have been considered the lesser crime.
“How dare you not include me in this bill,” Buck said from the House floor, nearly in tears.
Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton opposed the amendment. He remembered literally fighting his way home from school surrounded by shouts of wetback, beaner and spick.
“It wasn’t just the fact that I was the second shortest kid in my class. They were going after me because of my inherent characteristics… not all hate is just hate,” said Salazar, adding that Colorado was one of the first states to outlaw discrimination based on race in the 1950s.
Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver agreed, arguing that there’s a meaningful difference between bullying someone for being tall versus being a certain race. Pabon noted that Colorado has had specific laws against biased-motivated incidents since the late 80’s.
Opponents of the amendment in general said that Colorado’s earlier policy decisions on discrimination should be respected and upheld when applied to mean kids messing with other kids on the Internet.
“Members, race matters. Race matters, as as do all these other protective classifications. They matter,” said Fields, referring back to her own experiences with online harassment rooted in race and gender.
Gardner’s amendment ultimately lost by six votes and the bill got initial approval from the House. The measure will come up for a final vote this week.
That other agritourism
Small farms and ranches open to agricultural based tourism may not be liable for tourists’ injuries under a bill from Rep. Tim Dore of Elizabeth that was heard in the House today.
While excluding recreational pot, HB 1280 would reduce the liability agribusinesses face when they decide to venture into the tourism industry by hosting visitors on farm tours, ATV rides and the like.
Rep. Diane Mitch-Bush of Steamboat Springs gave her support, saying that for start-up and small scale agritourism, a personal injury lawsuit could bring down their business.
“Agritourism is already a very active program in the state with about 1,000 people signed up and providing services. It holds promise for rural Colorado and over half the states in this country have a bill like this,” noted Rep. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, a cosponsor of the bill.
The measure got initial approval from the House and will likely come up for a final vote later this week.
Uber, Lyft regulations pass out of Senate
Despite Sen. Owen Hill’s third round effort to amend the bill that would deny the Colorado Public Utilities Commission any authority over Transportation Network Companies such Lyft and Uber, the bipartisan bipartisan to regulate TNCs passed final vote in the Senate today.
“If the entire transit system needs to be opened up and looked at ,so be it, but that’s not this bill,” said sponsor Senator Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge in response to Hill’s concerns that her measure, SB 125, only further extends what he sees as PUC regulatory over-reaching.
The measure now heads to the House.
Lundberg advocates for the rights of hippie parents
Sen. Kevin Lundberg’s bill to allow parents to decide if their infants get treatment from alternative providers such as naturopaths got a first approval from the Senate today.
“This bill acknowledges that every citizen in Colorado deservers to have the right to access to all medical care available and when it comes to the very youngest, the gatekeepers should be parents,” said Lundberg, of Fort Collins.
If passed, SB 32 would allow alternative practitioners treat infants, yet still require that they seek to work in concert with licensed pediatricians at least until a child is eight years old.
Last year, the legislature passed a bill that among other limits to alternative care providers was amended to prohibit those caregivers from working with children under two years of age. That legislation was carried by Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, who supported Lundberg’s legislation today.
“I was offended last year and am still offended this year that we think a naturopath is unskilled to treat things such as teething,” she said.
The measure passed an initial vote today and will get a final vote this week.