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Officials look into anti-bullying law

Enough's enough, several North Dakota legislators said Friday.

Many lawmakers have been working for months to prepare proposals that would establish an anti-bullying law for North Dakota, but the tragic suicide of a Cooperstown teenager this week will likely make the issue a priority in the 2011 legislative session that begins in January.

Cassidy Joy Andel, 16, hanged herself early Thursday morning. Authorities believe it was over relentless bullying through text messages and social media websites such as Facebook.

Legislators said Andel's death offers a somber wake-up call as to why an anti-bullying law is necessary in the state.

As of June, North Dakota was one of nine states nationwide that didn't have laws against bullying, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Without such a law, it's unclear whether any criminal consequence can be brought against bullies who drive those, like Andel, to suicide.

"Something certainly has to be done," said state Rep. Bob Hunskor, D-Newburg, one of many legislators working to craft anti-bullying proposals for the next session of the state Legislature.

Hunskor and state Senate Minority Leader David O'Connell, D-Lansford, said they have held meetings with superintendents across the state to discuss what provisions should be included in any law that's proposed and how much the schools should be involved in deterring bullies.

They said it's too early to know what exactly an anti-bullying law might entail.

"Whatever the answer is, this is going to get everybody on their toes and hopefully something can be done to minimize this type of thing from ever happening again," Hunskor said.

Several other legislators from across the state also are said to be working on similar proposals for the next session.

Fargo Democratic legislator Ed Gruchalla said he's drafting a bill that would include consequences for those who bully others with intellectual disabilities.

"When you're teasing a kid with intellectual disabilities, they're not able to defend themselves," Gruchalla said, adding he wants to seek an enhanced penalty for such bullying.

Meanwhile, as state leaders pursue legislative alternatives, average North Dakotans are clamoring for a law to be established.

A Facebook group called "North Dakota Bully Busters" had drawn more than 1,000 members by Friday evening.

Daum is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.