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UPDATE: 'Cyberbullying' bill signed by W.Va. Governor

(WSAZ)
Published: Jan. 30, 2018 at 12:01 AM EST
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UPDATE 3/29/18 @ 12:22 p.m.

A bill to make online harassment a crime in West Virginia will go into effect this June.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed House Bill 2655 this week.

The bill will make cyberbullying children under the age of 18 a misdemeanor in West Virginia. Maximum punishments for the crime would include a year in jail and/or a $500 fine.

The law is referred to as "Grace's Law." Grace is a Maryland teenager who took her own life after repeated bullying on social media. It's already in effect in several states.

"This law will help protect our children from an evolving and growing form of harassment and bullying that was not covered by existing laws," Delegate Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, said. "With rapidly advancing technology and social media, we need to make sure we're doing everything we can to prevent the bullying of our children and protect them from having obscene materials posted about them electronically."

Upson sponsored the bill that amends the West Virginia Computer Crime and Abuse Act to include cyberbullying of minors.

House Bill 2655 is effective 90 days from passage, meaning the new cyberbullying law will go into effect June 8.

UPDATE 3/9/18 @ 4:53 p.m.

A bill to make online harassment a crime in West Virginia is another step closer to passing.

On Friday, West Virginia senators passed House Bill 2655 and sent it back to the House before it goes to Gov. Jim Justice.

The bill would make cyberbullying children under the age of 18 a misdemeanor in West Virginia. Maximum punishments for the crime would include a year in jail and/or a $500 fine.

The law is referred to as "Grace's Law." Grace is a Maryland teenager who took her own life after repeated bullying on social media. It's already in effect in several states.

The bill passed the House on Feb. 5 with only one no vote. No one voted against it in the Senate.


UPDATE 2/5/18 @ 1:15 p.m.

After a third reading on Monday, a bill to make online harassment a crime in West Virginia has passed the House.

House Bill 2655 would make cyberbullying children under the age of 18 a misdemeanor offense with maximum punishments of a year in jail, a $500 fine, or both.

It’s being referred to as “Grace’s Law.” It’s already in effect in several states and is named for a Maryland teenager who took her own life after repeated bullying on social media.

The bill passed the House on a 94-1 vote. Only Republican Pat McGeenhan voted against the bill.

It now heads to the West Virginia Senate for consideration.


ORIGINAL STORY 1/29/18

In this age of smartphones and social media, St. Albans High School Guidance Counselor Richard Tench says young victims of online "cyberbullying" often have nowhere to hide.

"It causes depression, absenteeism, falling in grades," Tench said. "I think it has a longer, more lasting impact than bullying physically in schools."

"Unfortunately that often leads to young people committing suicide," Delegate Joshua Higginbotham (R-Putnam, 13) said of cyberbullying.

It's just one of the reasons Higginbotham, the youngest lawmaker in West Virginia, is among those backing a bill that aims to put a stop to this type of bullying online.

Lawmakers are now considering a bill called "Grace's law." It's already in effect in several states and is named for a Maryland teenager who took her own life after repeated bullying on social media.

The law would make cyberbullying children under the age of 18 a misdemeanor offense with maximum punishments of a year in jail, a $500 fine, or both.

Specifically, the bill would outlaw causing a minor to fear for their safety, sexually harassing a minor, spreading information with malicious intent to torment a minor, or provoke the stalking of a minor through online behaviors.

Higginbotham has seen the effect of cyberbullying firsthand. He calls it an epidemic.

"I believe it'll have strong support," Higginbotham said. "You will have some people who believe it may be a violation of their First Amendment rights, but bullying is not covered by the First Amendment."