Parents beware: Punishing kids may be too provocative under parental bullying legislation

By Brian Brueggemann | Feb 5, 2019

An Illinois lawmaker has made some tweaks to his “parental bullying” legislation, but an opponent says it still goes too far.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat, in December filed House Bill 181, which would have created the offense of parental bullying. The bill’s synopsis stated that a parent or legal guardian of a child would commit the petty offense, punishable by a fine, “when he or she knowingly and with the intent to discipline, embarrass, or alter the behavior of the minor, transmits any verbal or visual message that the parent or legal guardian reasonably believes would coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to the minor.”

The bill also stated that, if convicted, “a portion of any fine imposed, as determined by the court, be placed in escrow for the purchase of a certificate of deposit for use by the victim when he or she attains 18 years of age.”

More than 70 people filled out witness slips with the House’s Judiciary Committee, in opposition to the bill.

Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago)  

Ford on Tuesday said that bill was a draft, and was not supposed to be filed. On Monday, Ford filed a motion to table the bill.

Ford also said Tuesday that another bill he filed, House Bill 193, is the legislation he hopes to have signed into law. That bill creates the offense of “parental cyber-bullying.” The first bill did not include the word “cyber” in the name of the offense, but otherwise, the two bills are essentially identical.

A Chicago mayoral candidate, Ford told TV station WICS in Springfield that the goal of the bill is to prevent parents from shaming their children on social media.

"And we want to prevent that and try to do everything to deter it because with social media, those are permanent records on a child's life," Ford told the station.

The bill’s opponents include the Illinois Family Institute.

“We don’t like government getting in between parents and raising their children,” said Ralph Rivera, a lobbyist for the group. “Obviously, abuse and neglect are a different matter. But we have to be careful when we infringe on the rights of parents to discipline and raise their children.”

Rivera said the group is concerned about how police and prosecutors would determine what constitutes an offense.

“What is it that would reach that level, of violating the law, where you would have an offense?” Rivera said.

Rivera said he hopes to talk with Ford to get more information, such as why Ford feels the legislation is needed.

“Is this going on all over? Or does he know about it from one or two or three isolated instances? If that’s the case, do you want to make a law for it?” Rivera said.

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