Legislation in brief

Mo. governor signs law intended to target online harassment

MISSOURI -- Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation June 30 that aims to fight cyber-bullying by updating the state's current harassment and stalking laws to include communication over the Internet and through other electronic means.

Missouri took up the legislation in response to the death of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old Missouri resident who took her life after a 49-year-old neighbor allegedly bullied her via MySpace.

The bill, which goes into effect Aug. 28, clarifies the definition of unlawful harassment to include electronic communication and expands stalking to include two or more acts through any means of communication.

Harassment is defined as any intentional conduct that without good cause "frightens, intimidates or causes emotional distress."

Some First Amendment advocates worry that the definition of harassment may be overly broad, which could enable administrators or law enforcement agents to penalize legitimate speech done without harmful intent.

The new legislation increases penalties for harassment and stalking from a misdemeanor to a felony if the act is committed against minors 17 or younger by someone who is 21 or older.

The law also requires school boards to implement a written policy requiring administrators to report harassment and stalking committed on school property to local law enforcement. This includes any communication over the Internet or through text messages while on school grounds.

Fall 2008, reports