Bell bill would police texting

Enter a typical high school in Virginia, and one theme quickly emerges: teenagers treat cell phones like appendages, and idle moments frequently involve the fidgeting of fingers on touch screens and mini keyboards.
In a teenage culture where texting is sometimes more common than talking, Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, wants to ensure there are clear ways to police the perverse.

The average American teenager sends or receives six text messages for every hour they’re awake.  Extrapolated, that’s 3,339 texts per month, according to a recent study by Nielsen Co.

“That statistic does not surprise me,” says Amy Hoppenjans, a world history teacher at Charlottesville High School. “My co-teacher and I are constantly on the lookout for cell phones, and, in some cases, have had to refer students to the office for their refusal to comply to put their cell phone out of sight.  For some students, it’s like an addiction.”

In a teenage culture where texting is sometimes more common than talking, Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, wants to ensure there are clear ways to police the perverse. Bell has authored a bill that would update Virginia law so that texted threats or lewd photos are accounted for.

If Bell’s bill is enacted, Virginia law would treat obscene or threatening text messages the same as traditional phone calls, closing what he says is an antiquated loophole.

“We want to make sure the law addresses these new technologies,” Bell told C-VILLE.

The early feedback surrounding the bill appears positive.  

Dewey Cornell, Director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at UVA’s Curry School of Education, lauded Bell as “a champion of efforts to reduce bullying and threats of violence in schools.” 

Cornell also emphasized the nuances of patrolling inappropriate texts and the need for schools to strike a balance between their own prevention efforts and law enforcement involvement.

“There must be a way to distinguish the small number of very serious cases that may rise to the level of a criminal offense from the majority of cases that can be addressed through prevention, counseling and ordinary school disciplinary measures,” he told C-VILLE.

In another act of support, the Virginia Joint Commission on Technology and Science recently endorsed Bell’s proposal, meaning that the General Assembly will now consider it during the body’s next legislative session that starts in January.

Though optimistic about the bill’s success, Bell said 10 years spent sitting in his delegate seat have taught him there is no sure-fire proposal.

“We’ll see what the House and Senate think,” he says.

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