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Parental Liability Law Seeks to Prevent Bullying in North Tonawanda

October 11, 2017

Parents of children accused of bullying can now face jail time under new legislation passed by the City of North Tonawanda, which took effect on October 1, 2017. By holding parents accountable for their child’s misconduct, North Tonawanda Common Council members hope that this new law will prevent and protect children from bullying, especially in schools. Parental penalties include a $250 fine, and/or 15 days in jail, if twice in a 90-day period, their child violates any city law, including bullying. By requiring parents to have greater control over their children, North Tonawanda hopes to become a safer city. 

This law arises out of frustration over juvenile violence, and an assault incident, which occurred near the Nash Road Dollar General, an area where many students spend time after school. As an eighth-grade boy exited the store with his mother, another student attacked the boy from behind, viciously punching him. Because the attacker is a minor, no legal action was taken, but the new-anti bullying law provides peace of mind that those who bully other children, hold unlawful parties, or stay out past the city’s curfew will be held responsible via their parents.

            The inspiration for the law came from the state of Wisconsin, where several small towns have passed parental liability laws in an effort to combat juvenile bullying. Despite the good faith intentions of these laws, questions regarding the constitutionality and excessive government regulation have risen. Colorado, Wisconsin, New York, and the District of Columbia each have state statutes that reflect the North Tonawanda anti-bullying law.       

            According to Informal Opinion No. 2005-13, the City of Cohoes, New York asks the Court whether it could enact a law punishing parents if their minor child violated a curfew law. 2005 N.Y. AG LEXIS 31. The punishment included a $250 fine, and/or 15 days in jail. Id. The Court decided that the City could not enact the law because imposing criminal penalties on parents for a child’s behavior involves the law of domestic relations, and issues of parental control, which were beyond the powers of municipal government and is a matter only the State can legislate. Id. Only time will tell if the North Tonawanda anti-bullying law will be similar to the proposed City of Cohoes curfew law.

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