Stokesbary’s cyberstalking bill moves quickly through committee after court ruling

Last Friday, when a federal district court judge in Seattle ruled Washington state's cyberstalking law was an unconstitutional restriction of free speech rights, 31st District State Rep. Drew Stokesbary took action.

With the fiscal committee cutoff looming, Stokesbary consulted with First Amendment attorneys and prosecutors to prepare legislation, which he introduced on Tuesday as House Bill 2129.

He managed to get the bill scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday, and on Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee passed the bill unanimously.

“It isn't very often you can file a bill and get a public hearing and move it out of committee within a couple days, but this is an important piece of legislation to update our cyberstalking laws. My bill would ensure that prosecutors could continue to take action against those using the internet to illegally harass their victims, but no longer criminalizes constitutionally-protected speech,” said Stokesbary, R-Auburn. “I appreciate the committee chair's assistance in moving this bill forward.”

In his ruling, Judge Ronald B. Leighton noted the Supreme Court has only permitted government regulation of narrow categories of speech, such as obscenity, defamation, incitement and threats. However, he said Washington's existing cyberstalking law criminalized speech outside of these categories, such as statements that were merely “embarrassing” to their subject or that were made anonymously or repetitively.

House Bill 2129 would no longer criminalize those constitutionally-protected categories of speech, but would give more tools to law enforcement to prosecute cyber harassment. For example, under the proposed legislation, cyber harassment could be charged as a felony if the defendant had previously been convicted of harassing the victim, their family, or their household in the past.

The bill now goes the House Rules Committee, where it will await being pulled to the floor for a vote by the full House of Representatives.

The 105-day 2019 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn April 28.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov