At least eight anti-bullying bills have emerged in the Hawaii Legislature this year in response to last year’s national coverage of the tragic effects school harassment can have.

After a couple of high-profile suicides were linked with school bullying, parents and community members in Hawaii got vocal. At one Board of Education meeting in October, more than half a dozen people testified on behalf of students who they feel are not being protected by the Department of Education‘s existing anti-bullying policy. A Civil Beat report in November revealed the department’s policy, Chapter 19, lacks enforcement.

Lawmakers heard loud and clear. The eight proposals aim to solve the bullying challenge each in its own way. Some cover bullying only on school property, others take in a wider territory. We’re here to give you a rundown on what they have in common and how they differ.

Making Bullying a Crime

Senate Bill 237

What It Does: Because the education department refers cyberbullying issues to the police, this bill hopes to establish clear penalties for cyberbullying by classifying it as harassment in the Hawaii Revised Statutes. Harassment by cyberbullying would qualify as a misdemeanor on the first and second offenses and a class C felony on the third. First offense would carry a 48-hour minimum jail sentence, second offense in the same year would carry a 30-day minimum jail sentence and third offense within two years of the second offense carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

The Latest: Sponsored by Sens. Jill Tokuda (Education Committee Chairwoman), Rosalyn Baker, Suzanne Chun Oakland, Michelle Kidani, Maile Shimabukuro and Senate President Shan Tsutsui. The Senate Committee on Economic Development and Technology passed the bill and it now goes to the Judicial and Labor Committee.

Senate Bill 934

What It Does: Establishes a mandatory bullying and cyberbullying policy for all public traditional and charter schools that would be developed with the help of students, parents, community members and local law enforcement. It defines bullying and cyberbullying much like Senate bills 87 and 919 and classifies bullying and cyberbullying a minor as a misdemeanor. The policy shall:

  • Be publicized and posted prominently and shared with parents, students, staff and volunteers every year.
  • Include immediate notification to the parents of bullies and their victims.
  • Establish a reporting requirement for bullying incidents.
  • Outline penalties and remedial action for bullies and for those who falsely accuse another student of bullying.
  • Establish a strategy for referring students to counseling or other appropriate services.
  • Include a statement encouraging public schools to form bullying prevention task forces, programs and other initiatives involving a cross-section of the school community.
  • Annual training about bullying prevention and identification for school staff and faculty.
  • An anti-bullying program for students and parents.

This anti-bullying policy would apply to electronic communication even when it doesn’t take place on school property or with school equipment.

The Latest: Introduced by Sens. Kidani, Chun Oakland, Dela Cruz, Espero, Galuteria and Tokuda. The Education Committee passed the bill and it awaits a second reading before the full Senate.

House Bill 215

What It Does: Like Senate bills 934 and 237, this one makes bullying a misdemeanor offense and requires anyone convicted of bullying in school to undergo a court-ordered counseling program. Its bullying definition is broad enough that it includes electronic communication even when not on school property or with school equipment.

The Latest: Introduced by Rep. Mele Carroll, it has been referred to the House Education and Judiciary committees.

Parent Notification & Teacher Training

Senate Bill 87

What it Does: Requires the board of education to adopt a policy that includes a method for notifying parents when their child has been found bullying on school property, at school functions or via school technology. Reassigns three-time bullying offenders (only in grades six through 12) to a different school. Requires the department to develop and post on its website a model policy regarding bullying. It also requires the department to maintain on its website a list of anti-bullying programs.

The Latest: Introduced by Sens. Will Espero, Carol Fukunaga, Josh Green and Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria. A hearing before the Senate Education Committee will be held at 1:15 p.m. Monday, Feb. 7.

Senate Bill 806

What It Does: The main portion of the bill actually deals with teacher licensing and adds onto the licensing criteria a requirement that teachers attend training in student bullying.

The Latest: Introduced by Tokuda, the bill passed her committee unanimously with amendments, passed its second reading and has been referred to the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee.

Senate Bill 919

What It does: Requires the department of education to “maintain, monitor, and enforce anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies and procedures to protect students.” Its definitions of bullying and cyberbullying are almost identical to those in Senate Bill 87. The department would be required to:

  • Publicize its bullying policies effectively.
  • Conduct annual training at the school level on how to deal with bullying.
  • Develop response mechanisms that address the failure of some school personnel in implementing current anti-bullying policies.
  • Publish statewide statistics on bullying, cyberbullying and harassment.
  • Designate a person in the department who would serve as the primary point of contact regarding the bullying and harassment policies.
  • Delineate a range of appropriate school-level responses to bullying and harassment.

The Latest: Introduced by Sens. Suzanne Chun Oakland, Rosalyn Baker, Donovan Dela Cruz, Will Espero, Carol Fukunaga, Josh Green, Les Ihara, Michelle Kidani and Shan Tsutsui. A hearing before the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 7 was deferred.

Related Bills: House Bill 688, which the House Education Committee passed unamended.

House Bill 690

What It Does: Requires the department of education to adopt rules to reduce or prevent school bullying and cyberbullying through model anti-bullying programs. Requires the department to develop a system for parents, students and staff to submit written reports about incidents of bullying. Also requires a formal process for investigating and disciplining bullies, and disciplining anyone who falsely accuses others of bullying. Its definition of school bullying includes “repeated aggressive behavior or intentional harm…” This bill establishes an appropriation of “$___ ” for the years 2011 through 2013 to implement model bullying programs.

The Latest: Introduced by Reps. John Mizuno, Karen Awana, George Fontaine, Angus McKelvey, Cynthia Thielen and Ryan Yamane. It has been referred to the House Education, Judiciary and Finance committees.

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