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May 21, 2014

Does your voice matter?  Yes!

The Illinois Senate had a long, detailed, and thoughtful discussion on House Bill (HB) 4207 yesterday, which proposed expanding the current cyber-bullying bill to off-campus speech.  In the debate, several legislators mentioned the library community's intellectual freedom concerns and Senator William R. Haine (D-56, Alton) specifically mentioned ILA's opposition to the bill.  When the roll call was taken, the bill received only 29 of the 30 required votes and therefore did not pass.  The sponsor put the bill on postponed consideration and may ask for another vote on the bill.  

The bill could be recalled in the Senate at any time so please call your Senator immediately.  Because there is no official roll call, we do not know who voted which way, but generally it was opposed by Republicans as a burden placed on schools to regulate off-campus speech and some Democrats as an infringement of off-campus speech. 

The current law limits cyber-bullying to electronic harassment of a student on school property, at school events, or by utilizing school technology. House Bill 4207 would apply the prohibition on cyber-bullying to electronic harassment of a student wherever the harassment occurs and through whatever means.  The Illinois Library Association opposes this bill because applying the broad power to all student speech regardless of where it takes place violates the First Amendment.  While cyber-bullying is a serious problem, the current law already strikes the appropriate balance.  If the law is to be extended beyond the school situation and restrict student speech wherever and however communicated, a narrower standard must be applied.


In addition to the clear First Amendment concern, requiring school educators and administrators to police all student speech is bad public policy.  Parents--and in extreme circumstances, law enforcement--are more appropriate parties to regulate speech by minors in non-school situations. House Bill 4207 raises serious liability issues for schools to control student behavior taking place off premises and with no technological connection to the school.


We urge Illinois Senators to oppose House Bill 4207.  Don't know your Senator or how to contact?  Please click here.  

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