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Yesterday, the mother of Rebecca Sedwick, the Lakeland, Florida teen who was driven to suicide by a yearlong campaign of bullying, announced that a new law has been introduced that would make bullying a crime.

During a news conference, Tricia Norman, along with her attorney and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, said that HB 451 and an accompanying bill in the Florida Senate have been filed. They would make it a first-degree misdemeanor to willfully, maliciously or repeatedly harass or cyberbully another person and a third-degree felony if there's a "credible threat" involved in the harassment.

Possible consequences for a misdemeanor violation could include counseling, community service and juvenile detention; punishment for the felony would be harsher.

No bullying law in currently on the books in Florida; some youths have been charged with aggravated stalking.

Norman said that if such a law had been in place in 2013, maybe her daughter wouldn't have committed suicide.

The companion Senate bill is SB 458.  Read the state house version here and the state senate version here.  The text of both bills is practically identical.  Both would make misdemeanor bullying a crime punishable by up to 60 days in prison and a $500 fine.  Felony aggravated bullying would be punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, with the prospect of enhanced penalties for repeat offenders.  

Although bullying is illegal in Florida, this law would be the first to impose criminal penalties for it.  There's no provision as of yet to hold parents accountable for their kids' bullying.  Unless there's no way to do it that passes constitutional muster, the law needs to be amended to include one.  

Thus far, the only people who have been arrested for this were the two ringleaders, Guadalupe Shaw and Katelyn Roman, who were brought up on aggravated stalking charges back in October.  The charges were dropped after they agreed to counseling.  I have to agree with Norman--if they'd known out of the gate that they would face criminal penalties for this, they wouldn't have kept it up for this long.

Norman also announced she plans to sue Polk County Schools for failing to protect her daughter from the in-person bullying she endured on school grounds.  According to Norman, the bullying continued even when she complained to school administrators, and she was forced to transfer Rebecca to another school.  Several other parents say that bullying is rampant at that school.  She's also seriously considering whether to file wrongful death suits as well.  According to authorities, as many as 15 girls were involved, so methinks the parents of those girls ought to be very afraid.

Given the circumstances, these bills should probably pass with close to unanimous support.  Something like this shouldn't be partisan.

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