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California city moves to criminalize bullying with controversial ordinance

Empty Classroom

File: June 2006: An empty classroom in Jackson, MIss.AP

Officials in one Southern California city are taking a stand against bullying -- by championing a proposal that would make it a crime to pick on others. 

The Carson city council voted 5-0 on Tuesday to advance the ordinance aimed at protecting anyone from kindergarten age up to 25 from physical tormenting and cyberbullying, KABC-TV reported. 

Under the proposal, offenders would face a misdemeanor charge or an infraction, and they would be required to pay a fine and attend counseling, the report said.

"We are going to protect not only the kid that is bothered in school, but when you leave school and go home, we're going to protect you as a city," Carson City Councilman Mike Gipson told the station.

Carson Mayor Jim Dear told Reuters that he acknowledges the measure, which is based on a similar ordinance in Monona, Wis., could be challenged in court. Still, he said he supports the proposal. 

"We're not talking about putting a 5-year-old in jail, we're talking about intervening in both the bully's life, who is a person who is hurting too, and the victim's life," Dear said.

Carson, a suburb of Los Angeles, contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for police services, and the measure would require sheriff's deputies to enforce the ordinance, according to Reuters.

The measure would require parents of suspected bullies to attend a juvenile court hearing, but child offenders would not always face time in custody, Dear said.

Brendan Hamme, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, told Reuters that the ordinance is too vague and does not indicate out how much jail time an offender could potentially face.

Ross Ellis, founder of Stomp Out Bullying, a leading national anti-bullying group, told the news agency that the measure appears to go too far. 

"Do you want someone to go to jail if they're calling someone a name?" Ellis said.

The ordinance will be taken up by the city council for a final vote on May 20.

Click here for more from Reuters.

Click here for more from KABC-TV.

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