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Lawmakers to pursue tougher anti-bullying laws

Nevada lawmakers are planning to introduce tougher anti-bullying legislation in the coming session.

 Was Jose Reyes bullied before the Sparks Middle School shooting? Police stopped short of making that claim, instead opting to say he was "teased" or "made fun of."

Over the last decade, the legislature has taken up more than 5 bills that address the problem. But it wasn't until 2009 that Nevada actually defined bullying. Former State Senator Valerie Wiener recently explained that to a legislative committee on education.

"There was no statutory definition for bullying. I sat down with bill drafters, and we decided to blend most of the (NRS) language for intimidation and most of the language for harassment; that became the definition for bullying."

That roughly translates as "a willful written, verbal or physical act, or conduct carried out by one or more persons which is not authorized by law and which exposes a person repeatedly to negative and offensive actions" (full definition here). So far, lawmakers are not necessarily trying to change that, but they would like to put more teeth into the anti-bullying laws.

State Senator David Parks has sponsored such legislation in previous sessions and is planning to introduce a bill next year.

"There is the one possibility that we've somewhat in Nevada refrained from doing that is pursuing a harsh legal remedy. Looking at other states, about half of the other states that have anti-bullying legislation do have some fairly strong legal remedies."

But what would that actually look like? And how far should you go with criminalizing it? Those were some of the questions put forward by committee members, including Assemblyman Harvey Munford.

"Are you going to then have the consequences more severe? That's really the only way you can do it is make the consequences more severe so that bullying is almost zero tolerance...that's the only way you can do it."

Senator Parks replied that a felony would not be appropriate, but, for the more serious situations, a misdemeanor or a citation might be the way to go.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.