Florida already requires public schools to police bullying on their grounds. But the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice advanced a bill Wednesday (SB 548) making it a crime to do so off the school grounds or online.
“Today, with the click of a key a person can destroy the life of another person,” said the bill sponsor, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. “There are a group of people who can say anything or do anything on the Internet. They feel there are no limits.”
Prosecutors this winter dropped charges against two teen girls accused of cyber-bullying 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick of Lakeland until she committed suicide. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd had arrested the girls accused of stalking and harassing Rebecca and their arrest was broadcast in front of news cameras.
Rebecca jumped to her death last September from a tower at an abandoned cement plant in Lakeland.
The bill would make it a second degree misdemeanor penalty for bullying and a first degree misdemeanor for aggravated bullying, with cyber-bullying falling under the definition.
Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat questioned whether the bill was tough enough to have made a difference in the Sedwick case.
The concept of the bill is that activity where an individual “willfully, maliciously and repeatedly harasses or cyber-bullies” another, they could face up to 1 year in jail and $1,000 fine.