Harassing or intimidating someone by text message, e-mail or posts on social networking sites like Facebook would be deemed "cyberbullying" and would be a crime under a bill that advanced Tuesday in the Louisiana Legislature.
The misdemeanor crime would apply only if the person being harassed or intimidated was under the age of 17. The House Criminal Justice Committee approved the bill by Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport on Tuesday without objection, sending it to the full House for debate.
Burrell said he's proposed the bill to address a rise nationally in bullying of teenagers through MySpace, Facebook, text messages and blogs — including some instances in which students have killed themselves because of the harassment.
"This situation is worsening, and it's destroying young lives," he said.
Brandy Wise, of Denham Springs, asked the committee to support Burrell's proposal. Wise said her 13-year-old daughter Rachel, who is in sixth grade, has been bullied by other students who set up a MySpace page in Rachel's name to make fun of her.
"She's embarrassed. She's hurt. I'm hurt. It's hurt my family and there's nothing anybody can do about it. They still taunt her about it," Wise said. "As of yet, nothing has been done to these kids, and my daughter continues to be bullied at school."
Wise said law enforcement officials and the school's principal haven't done anything to address the problem. She said she's going to ask that her daughter be moved to another school.
"I don't want my daughter to hang herself in a bedroom," Wise said.
Burrell cited several cases around the nation in which children have committed suicide after being bullied. He talked of a Massachusetts case in which six high school students are charged with bullying a 15-year-old girl who killed herself in January after prosecutors say she was relentlessly threatened by classmates, including on Facebook and through other electronic forms.
Several lawmakers on the House committee questioned whether Burrell's bill was too broad, sweeping in more than the intense bullying Burrell cited.
Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco, questioned who would determine what amounted to the "intent to coerce, abuse, torment, intimidate, frighten, harass, embarrass or cause emotional distress to another person" as banned by the bill.
"We have to be careful of all the others we catch in the net that are just childish games ... that are not truly malicious or not truly meant to hurt anybody," Smith said.
No one voted against the bill, however.
Anyone convicted of cyberbullying under the proposal would face a prison sentence of up to six months and a fine up to $500. A second conviction could result in up to one year of jail time and a fine up to $2,000. Third and subsequent convictions would require at least one year in jail and up to a three-year sentence, with a fine of up to $5,000.