At a press conference last Friday at Morgan & Morgan’s Tampa office, Tricia Norman announced that new legislation has been filed to criminalize all forms of bullying in Florida.
“This legislation will make parents and students aware that bullying is a crime,” Norman’s attorney, Matt Morgan, said. “We believe that Rebecca’s Law will deter students from bullying others in the future and will potentially save lives.”
After her daughter’s suicide last year, Norman vowed to pursue new laws that would make bullying and cyberbullying a crime statewide. Officially titled House Bill 451, “Rebecca’s Law” gets its name from Norman’s 12-year-old daughter, Rebecca Sedwick, who jumped to her death from a tower at an abandoned cement plant near her home last September. Sedwick reportedly endured months of allegedly severe bullying and cyberbullying at the hands of classmates, two of whom, ages 12 and 14, were arrested and charged with aggravated stalking shortly after her death. Though charges were dropped against the two girls, Morgan has said publicly that his client is considering filing lawsuits against both the Polk County school district and the two alleged bullies.
“I don’t want anybody else to go through what our family’s gone through,” Norman said at the conference. “This is what my daughter would’ve wanted me to do in her honor.”
Although bullying and cyberbullying are banned in Florida, they are not considered criminal offenses. Under the proposed law, first-time bullying offenders would be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, with repeat offenders possibly facing a third-degree felony. According to a CBS News report, punishments for misdemeanor and felony bullying offenses “would vary based on the degree” of the crime, with the possibility of a fine or jail time.
At the press conference, Florida State Representative Heather Fitzhagen, who sponsors the bill in the state House of Representatives, said the proposed antibullying bill hits particularly close to home because she has a 12-year-old daughter herself. In addition to curbing instances of bullying at schools and online, Fitzhagen hopes that placing substantial consequences on the act of bullying would help the issue “get traction” nationwide.
“I think this is going to raise awareness because now there is a consequence to this type of behavior,” Fitzhagen said.
According to Morgan, the legislation would first try to fight bullying in schools, something that will require little to no funding to initiate.
“Schools need to make sure they have the proper resources to address the epidemic of bullying,” Morgan said. “This campaign [Rebecca’s] mother Tricia Norman has initiated is a campaign of good will for others. I can tell you personally we have received an enormous amount of support for what we are doing.”