Cyberbullying now a heavier crime in Michigan thanks to new bill

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Photo by Colin Donnelly.

A bill introduced to the Michigan House of Representatives would introduce affirmative consent to sexual education courses in schools.

Bullying someone online just became a much more serious offense in Michigan thanks to two bills passed by the House of Representatives.

House Bills 5017 and 5018, which were passed on March 22, define cyberbullying as a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.  The bills passed easily with votes of 91-17 and 92-17, respectively.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, says the personal interaction of bullying is taken out when it is done through the internet.

“Right now, you can’t prosecute someone for an internet crime,” Lucido said. “Police deal with these types of cases every day, and they want some help.”

Currently, 38 states have some form of cyberbullying law.  “Matt’s Safe School Law” or “Act 451,” is already in place in Michigan and defines bullying as “any written, verbal, or physical act, or any electronic communication, that is intended … to harm 1 or more pupils.”

Anyone whose cyberbullying causes serious injury, including permanent or serious disfigurement, impairment of health, or impairment of a bodily function, is guilty of a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.

If the bullying resulted in the death of the victim, the penalty increases to 10 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.

The bill defines cyberbullying as a “message or statement…intended to place a person in fear of bodily harm or death.”  Even if the bully only means it as a threat and has no plan to physically harm the victim, the punishments remain the same.

According to a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15.5 percent of all students had been electronically bullied within the previous 12 months.  28 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students reported being cyber-bullied.  In Michigan, that number rises to 35.7 percent.

“Michigan has no law on the books specifically addressing cyberbullying, but this is a growing problem that affects both our children in schools, professionals in the workplace and other people in the towns they live,” Lucido said.  “The time is now for Michigan to stop sweeping communicated threats under the rug because it’s done on social media or blogs.”

Although the legislation passed the House in the third week of March, it was just unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 29.  The bills now advance to the Senate floor for consideration.

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