Kentucky Politics

A legislative committee has passed a bill that would make it a crime to share personal information about minors if the intent is to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass or frighten them.

The legislation comes after the controversial video last year of students from Covington Catholic High School wearing “Make America Great Again” hats shouting near a Native American man playing a drum in Washington D.C.

Family members of one of the students in that video, Nick Sandmann, has said that they endured threats and insults after the video went viral last year.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Latonia and sponsor of the bill, said that the legislation tries to prevent people from going online and harassing minors.

“What our civil society does not allow is for them to incite mob justice online,” McDaniel said.

Under the bill, individuals could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor if they share personal information online publicizing a minor’s name, address, school, employment location or other information.

Individuals could be charged with a Class D felony if the sharing results in the subject losing more than $500 in damages and a Class C felony if they are injured as a result of the information being shared.

Critics of the measure say that it is overly broad and would criminalize constitutionally sanctioned speech.

Rebecca Ballard DiLoreto, a UK Law School professor and defense attorney, said that the measure would ban other forms of critical speech, like a victim speaking out about an abuser.

“The idea that you can’t put out something that someone has done to you with their first and last name, or where they live, or their school, or employment location; it goes too far to say that you can never speak out against what someone has done to you,” DiLoreto said.

“Indeed your intent is to cause that reasonable fear so they will quit doing what they’re doing to you.”

McDaniel argued that abuse victims’ speech wouldn’t be curtailed under the bill, saying that those who think they have been harmed would have to prove the author’s intent to harass them.

“And those cases that’s not the intent of the person. They’re simply venting a level of frustration,” McDaniel said.

“Just going online and being angry and venting, that doesn’t qualify under this.”

Keturah Herron with the ACLU of Kentucky said that the bill would put wealthier minors at an advantage because they could afford to seek relief from the legal system if they feel like they have been slighted online.

“This bill would allow privileged youth to utilize paid lawyers for protection and leave our most marginalized and financially vulnerable youth left out of the same legal representation,” Herron said.

A similar version of the bill was proposed during last year’s legislative session but it never passed. The new version passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and is now eligible for a vote in the full Senate.

Last year, student Nick Sandmann sued several media organizations over coverage of the incident. Earlier this month, other Covington Catholic students filed suit against several media outlets and personalities for commentary in the wake of last year’s video, according to media reports.

 

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.