Bill to criminalize cyberbullying draws bipartisan support

DENVER — Colorado lawmakers gave initial approval to legislation that would make cyberbullying a crime.

Cyberbullying has increasingly become a part of modern childhood where young children have access to social media sites and near constant Internet access on smart phones.

The House Education Committee approved the legislation, HB 1131,on a unanimous bipartisan vote of 12-0.

The bill, which now moves to the House Appropriations Committee, would make it illegal for someone to harass a minor online if the victim feels the threat puts them in serious emotional distress or fear for their life.

“Bullying will never stop if we just stand by and do nothing,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, the bill’s sponsor. “Our children need to be free from fear.”

The crime would be added to the state law on harassment as a class 2 misdemeanor.

A number of teens described their experiences of being bullied before lawmakers Monday afternoon.

“I’d get it at school and then log on to the internet when I got home and see it there too, just all this hatred, things like ‘no one wants you there, it’d be better off if you just killed yourself’,” Ashley Berry told FOX31 Denver.

“It makes you feel like no one’s really there for you. You start to have suicidal thoughts, wondering maybe it would be better if I wasn’t here. It makes you feel alone and like no one is there for you.

“If this bill passes, at least we’ll know that even if our parents or our teachers aren’t listening, the state will be there for us.”

Highlands Ranch mother Naomi Lowell told us in November about the bullying her 13-year-old daughter received.

Messages sent to her Facebook page included threats and “awful stuff like, Go kill yourself,” Lowell said.

Lowell said she was able to work with her daughter’s school to stop the bullying.  That is often the only course available to parents whose children have been bullied.

Some district attorney’s have filled harassment charges in cases of extreme bullying. However, statutorily, the crime can be difficult to prosecute. The new Colorado law is intended to fix this.