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Bill aims to protect those who intervene to stop bullying

Posted: March 10, 2014 - 4:06pm

COLUMBIA — A soccer coach was afraid to break up two violent 9-year-olds. A bus driver was hesitant to stop fifth-grade girls from beating each other up.

Those were among the anecdotes a Senate panel heard Thursday.

“I just feel like at some point in time we need to let adults be able to intervene when children are acting badly and not have to be worried about going to jail,” said Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown.

The lawmaker acknowledged he’s a dentist, not a lawyer, but that he saw a need to fix state law to protect well-meaning adults from criminal prosecution.

His bill, S. 843, aims to shield a school employee or volunteer from termination or prosecution when the person intervenes to stop harassment, bullying and intimidation.

Cleary said his original intent was to allow employees and volunteers who break up physical fights to be protected.

Thursday, Sen. Gerald Malloy wondered if Cleary’s law was necessary. The panel ultimately decided to hold up the bill for possible revisions.

“The general laws are there already to protect someone that intervenes, because the law of assault has to have the requisite intent,” said the Darlington Democrat. “The question becomes then, to me, does the current law protect you already?”

In a letter last month, Brian Harlan, public policy committee chairman of the S.C. Alliance of YMCAs, endorsed Cleary’s proposal.

“School bullying is a significant problem throughout our schools, and we see its effects every day in the kids that come through our doors,” wrote Harlan.

Some senators suggested the law be broadened to extend immunity to referees of sporting events.

“What you’d not protect is if someone gets in to break up a fight, and a kid punches a faculty member, and the faculty member punches the kid back,” said Malloy.

S.C. High School League Commissioner Jerome Singleton told the panel his organization does not recommend officials thrust themselves into the middle of fights between youths, in part, because of the way it could be perceived.

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