DENVER – A bill to punish cyberbullies was killed Wednesday by its sponsors who instead want to authorize the Colorado Commission for Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) to further study social media crimes committed against youngsters.
The bill was supported by victims of cyberbullying and some lawyers including Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler. But it was opposed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.
“The constitutional arguments for free speech are a red herring on this bill,” said Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.
Sens. Linda Newell (D-Littleton) and John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins) asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to kill their measure, House Bill 1131, which would have made cyberbullying a misdemeanor offense.
“We don’t want unintended consequences,” Kefalas told the Observer. “We’ll come up with a more receptive bill to prevent the crime of cyberbullying.”
Some critics of the bill had argued that the measure’s criminal penalties would hurt kids who are already on the margin, said Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver).
“I disagree,” said Johnston, a former school principal.
“I think the most significant perpetuators of these kinds of offenses are the captains of the football teams and head cheerleaders whose parents have plenty of money, plenty of lawyers and plenty of political capital,” he said.
“A lot times we see (school) principals say, ‘sorry, nothing I can do because that happened outside of school,’” Johnston said. “’Sorry parent, take your concerns someplace else.’”
There is a great urgency for legislation to help the victims of social media crimes, said Johnston, who voted reluctantly to kill the bill. He voiced concerns that over the next year, more kids will be victimized and become suicidal.
Kefalas said that he and Newell would introduce a late bill to authorize the CCJJ to study cyberbullying crimes and confer with stakeholders and the ADL and ACLU.
If the measure passes, he said the study would be performed by CCJJ this year and would not require an additional appropriation.
Newell said the study would be “a larger conversation on cyberbullying, revenge porn and the social media problems.”
Rep. Rhonda Fields, who had introduced HB 1131, told CBS TV 4 that she was surprised and dismayed that Kefalas and Newell had buried the bill. It had been passed by the House though Republican lawmakers and Rep. Cherylin Peniston (D-Westminster) opposed the measure’s two-tier criminal penalty system that deemed some crimes against kids were lesser offenses than those committed against minorities and LGBT youth.