Government

Legislation Takes Aim at Bullying, Cyberbullying

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: January 21, 2014 3:55 AM
Bullying

A bill filed in the Florida House and Senate aims to crack down on bullying in the Sunshine State. If passed, bullying would become a misdemeanor and aggravated bullying a third-degree felony.

The bill, HB 451, is sponsored by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers. It has also taken on a different name -- “Rebecca’s Law” -- after Rebecca Sedwick, a 12 year-old girl from Polk County who authorities say committed suicide in September after being bullied by two of her classmates.

Sedwick’s classmates were both charged with felony aggravated stalking, but the charges against them were later dropped.

The bill hits home for Fitzenhagen, who told Sunshine State News that not only does she have a 12-year-old daughter, but she was also a victim of bullying herself.

“It’s not something I’ve ever forgotten,” she said. “It’s something that’s very real and it hit a chord with me.”

Bullying is currently prohibited in Florida, but if passed, the new legislation would make bullying and cyberbullying a crime.

Fitzenhagen explained that a concerted effort to hurt others is what sets this type of bullying apart from merely saying one or two hurtful things.

“Kids are always going to be kids and say the random comment,” she said. “But if you are engaged in a pattern of activity where each and every day you are sending inappropriate messages ... that’s what I’m talking about.”

Under HB 451, those charged with bullying would have to engage in a “pattern of activity” which “involv[es] a series of acts over any period of time which evidences a continuity of purpose.”

On top of that, victims of bullying must feel there’s a “credible threat” to the bullying that would cause them to fear for their safety. Ultimately, however, it would be up to a judge to determine whether the bullying in question would meet the criteria.

The bill has gathered the support of Sedwick’s mother, Tricia Norman, who has vowed to help push the Legislature to pass the law to combat bullying she says ultimately took her daughter’s life.

"I don't want anyone to have to go through what my family has gone through," Norman said. "So, I think it's very important to get this passed, get this law into place."

On Monday, Fitzenhagen launched PassRebeccasLaw.com, a website designed to get the public involved in passing the bill. On the site, visitors can read the full text of the bill and sign a petition showing their support of the legislation.

“Bullying has become increasingly more prevalent across Florida and across the United States,” said Fitzenhagen. “I wanted to be able to try to do something that would create a stronger dialogue and send a message across the entire state ... to say, ‘We really need to talk about this, we need to educate on this, and we need to get it to stop.’”



Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.

Comments (10)

Mary Littlefield
9:39AM JAN 22ND 2014
This needs to be stopped!!! This can scar a person for life. I was bullied in a Catholic School by 3 boy's in the 6TH grade. Changed schools as no one did anything about it. Than a little at another Catholic school in the 8TH grade. That didn't last long, but I still have the feeling of HURT and I am happy, have a wonderful family and am a Great Grandmother of 66 yr's old, but that hurt is there. That was minor of what goes on these day's and kids are taking their lives because of bulling. NEEDS TO STOP!!!!!
Anne
8:53PM JAN 21ST 2014
More laws....just what we need! EVERYONE has a story about how they were "bullied"........let's just put all of American in jail because we're probably all guilty of offending someone someplace! Perhaps we all need to be muzzled so that we're certain no one ever says anything that could be considered "bullying"!!! Heck, I feel I've been bullied for the last five years by a government that is determined to take my freedom of speech away. Can I put them all in jail?
Baily Wheeler
1:42PM JAN 21ST 2014
bullying is a negative thing to do.Some people know it can lead to suicide,so why do they do it? SO STOP BULLYING!!!!!
natdj
12:18PM JAN 21ST 2014
In theory, this may be a good bill, in actuality, it would seem that defining "bullying" would still be difficult. For instance, when a schoolmate of my then 15 year old daughter sent my her a facebook message that said that my daughter's face would be f****d up, the police said that is not even a threat?

Not sure if this bill will make a difference.
Frank
12:40PM JAN 21ST 2014
Informed minds want to know . . . do we have a companion bill that will cover political bullying, like we're seeing unfold in the great state of New Jersey (we already know it has residence in Florida - if nothing else, just think about a recent Senate budget chairman & USF) . . . to do otherwise would just be . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
SRQ Tad
11:10AM JAN 21ST 2014
Slander, defamation and libel... Don't those actions already have legal consequences? Why were the stalking charges dropped? To paraphrase Clint eastwood's character in "Gran Torino", When did we become a nation full of wussies?" Why is it that throughout history, there have been bullies but only in the last 20 years or so, people have lost or abdicated their ability and willingness to stand up to what was always known to be a coward. And the entire cyber-bullying thing seems absurd. Treat that like we used to treat obscene/harassing phone calls. Better yet, today you can just block the sender. And while I'm on a rant, for pete's sake, STOP posting your personal life.
Frank
11:58AM JAN 21ST 2014
Yeah, yeah, you must be right . . . . nothing that can't be resolved by letting your 12-year old go packing in school and stand up to those bullies, correct . . . . violence is always the answer . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
SRQ Tad
12:52PM JAN 21ST 2014
Men, too timid to act, rest easy due to other men, far better than they, who are redy to do violence to those who would attack.
It's like the realtionship between the wolf, the sheep and the sheep dog. You sound like one of the sheep. Now, that's pathetic.
Frank
8:24PM JAN 21ST 2014
Ah yes, the far right Tea Party sheeple characterization strategy . . . . (and supportive of major violence at a moment's notice - the George Zimmerman strategy) . . . . but then you've made it previously clear that running away is never an option (nor the police), that violence is the only solution . . . . .

Pathetic . . .
rc
7:04AM JAN 21ST 2014
Of course, this will never be used against people speaking out against politicians. As much as I detest bullies, this is a stupid law.

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