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Colorado Cyberbullying Bill Shelved This Year

DENVER (AP) - A Colorado proposal cracking down on bullies who harass young people through text messages and social media has failed, shocking the bill's sponsor and prompting her supporters to say they will try again next year.

"I am extremely disappointed and stunned, because it came out of the House with such strong support," Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said Thursday.

Her bill sailed through the House last month on a 54-10 vote. It would have made it a misdemeanor to inflict "serious emotional distress on a minor" with texts or posts on websites such as Twitter or Facebook.

A Senate committee voted Wednesday to shelve the proposal amid concerns of infringing on free speech and subjecting young offenders to harsh penalties. But the bill sponsors in that chamber said they're requesting the issue be studied by the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to have recommendations for another proposal next year.

"We worked really hard to meet with all of the stakeholders, and we could just not find the sweet spot," said Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton.

Lawmakers worried that juveniles who were prosecuted for cyberbullying could then struggle with job and college applications in the future.

"We don't want to overcriminalize kids who do silly things," said Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins. He added: "It's not to diminish the gravity of this thing."

Newell said lawmakers hope that the CCJJ also studies and makes recommendations other issues beyond cyberbullying, including "sexting" and "revenge porn" among minors. Sexting is the practice of sending sexually explicit photos over wireless devices, and revenge porn refers to the distribution of such images to humiliate former lovers.

But Fields said she was "perplexed" that lawmakers wanted to study cyberbullying more before passing legislation.

"Study what?" she asked. During a hearing in February, state House lawmakers heard emotional testimony from youth who were bullied so severely they considered suicide.

"The evidence is clear that this is a national issue," Fields said.

LINK: House Bill 1131

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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