Bill criminalizing cyberbullying killed over free speech concerns

Cyberbullying. Image courtesy: University of Alabama

Cyberbullying. Image courtesy: University of Alabama

DENVER — Senate Democrats killed a measure that would have made cyberbullying a crime, citing free speech concerns and promising to study the issue further.

House Bill 1131 would have made it a misdemeanor to inflict “serious emotional distress on a minor” through cyberbullying.

But the Senate Judiciary, controlled by Democrats, voted the measure down Wednesday over concerns that toughening the law might impede free speech.

Supporters argued having a specific penalty on the law books would help crack down on the crime.

The Colorado Criminal Defense Bar opposed the measure, saying the crime is already handled with the state’s current harassment statute.

The bill had already cleared the full House with bipartisan support.

The House sponsor, Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, called Wednesday’s vote “an embarassment” and said there’s no need to study the issue of cyberbullying, increasingly a part of modern childhood with most children having access to social media sites and the Internet on smart phones.