Bullying could become criminal offense with new Florida bill

2:13 PM, Dec 19, 2013   |    comments
Rebecca Sedwick (family photo)
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Tallahassee, Florida -- A new bill filed by Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) could be a big step in curbing the bullying epidemic that has been plaguing teenagers across the state.

The News Service of Florida reports the bill, filed Wednesday, goes beyond school lines and into the criminal court system. It states the bullying offense would involve "a person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies another."

Anyone arrested for bullying could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, and anyone who bullies someone repeatedly could face a third-degree felony.

It does exclude constitutionally-protected activities like picketing and other organized protests.

State law currently has a statute on bullying called the "Jeffrey Johnson Stand Up for All Students Act," that focuses on bullying or harassment of students and public school employees. It was named after a 15-year-old Cape Coral honor student who hanged himself after what his mother claimed was three years of relentless torment by a bully.

The Legislature approved it in 2008, and it requires school districts to set up anti-bullying policies and create reporting procedures on bullying and harassment allegations.

Last month, Rebecca Sedwick's grandmother started a petition calling for stricter bullying laws after her granddaughter committed suicide after officials say she was bullied incessantly last year by two other girls.

Pat Jones' petition demands that bullying laws be updated to hold schools and law enforcement accountable to the damage bullying can inflict on young people.

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