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BILL ANALYSIS AND FISCAL IMPACT STATEMENT for BILL: SB 548

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The Florida Senate
BILL ANALYSIS AND FISCAL IMPACT STATEMENT
(This document is based on the provisions contained in the legislation as of the latest date listed below.)
Prepared By: The Professional Staff of the Committee on Criminal Justice

BILL: SB 548
INTRODUCER: Senator Simmons
SUBJECT: Bullying
DATE: February 4, 2014

ANALYST STAFF DIRECTOR REFERENCE ACTION
1. Dugger Cannon CJ Pre-meeting
2. ACJ
3. AP

I. Summary:
SB 548 creates a criminal statute penalizing bullying and aggravated bullying. The newly created
statute provides a first degree misdemeanor penalty1
for bullying and a third degree felony
penalty2
for aggravated bullying. Cyberbullying is included in each new crime. The elements of
these two new offenses and the definitions provided in the bill are the same as the elements and
definitions in the stalking statute (found to be constitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in
1995).
II. Present Situation:

Florida law requires each district school board to adopt a policy prohibiting bullying and
harassment in district schools.3
Violation of these policies can result in school disciplinary
actions being taken. Among other things, the law prohibits the bullying or harassment of any
public K-12 student or employee during a public K-12 education program or activity; during a
school-related or school-sponsored program or activity; on a public K-12 school bus; through a
computer, computer system, or computer network that is within the scope of a public K-12

 

 

The law defines “bullying” as systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or
psychological distress on one or more students, which may involve teasing; social exclusion;
threat; intimidation; stalking; physical violence; theft; sexual, religious, or racial harassment;
public humiliation; or destruction of property. It includes “cyberbullying” and defines it as
bullying through the use of specified technology or electronic communications; the creation of a
webpage or weblog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person or the knowing
impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages; or the distribution
by electronic means of a communication to more than one person or the posting of material on an
electronic medium that is accessible to others.5

Law enforcement, among other entities, must be involved with the school district in the process
of adopting the policies. The policies must include a process to investigate whether a reported act
of bullying or harassment is within the scope of a district school system and if it is not, a process
for referring such act to the appropriate jurisdiction must be identified. A procedure must also be
included that provides immediate notification to parents and to criminal justice authorities so that
actions rising to the level of criminal activity can be referred to the appropriate law enforcement
entity for further investigation.6

Although Florida’s anti-bullying law does not provide criminal penalties for bullying per se, it
does provide a process that allows bullying behavior to be investigated and prosecuted by
criminal justice authorities and if warranted, pursued as other criminal offenses such as assault,
aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, theft, stalking, or aggravated stalking.

 

Stalking Statute
Florida’s stalking law7
was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court as constitutional in 1995.8
It
defines “harass,” “course of conduct,” “credible threat,” and “cyberstalk.”
9
Basically, “harass”
means a “course of conduct” (a pattern comprised of a series of acts over a time period, however
short, showing a continuity of purpose), directed at a specific person causing substantial
emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose. “Cyberstalk” means a course
of conduct communicating or causing to be communicated, words or images by electronic mail
or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress
to that person and serving no legitimate purpose. Finally, “credible threat” is defined to mean a
verbal or nonverbal threat placing a person in reasonable fear for his or his family’s safety, made
with the apparent ability to carry it out.

The stalking statute provides a first degree misdemeanor penalty for stalking10
and third degree
felony penalties for several aggravated stalking offenses.11
The misdemeanor stalking offense

 

occurs when a person willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks
another person.12

One of the aggravated stalking offenses occurs when a person willfully, maliciously, and
repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that
person.13
The other three aggravated stalking offenses involve this same behavior without a
threat being made and instead, the victim is either under 16 years; there is a protective injunction
against a person for repeat violence, sexual violence, dating violence, or domestic violence; or
there is a no contact (the victim) order against a person convicted of certain sexual offenses.14

III. Effect of Proposed Changes:
The bill creates a criminal statute penalizing bullying and aggravated bullying. The newly
created statute provides a first degree misdemeanor penalty for bullying and a third degree felony
penalty for aggravated bullying. Cyberbullying is included in each new crime. The misdemeanor
bullying offense will occur when a person willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or
cyberbullies another person. The felony aggravated bullying offense will occur when a person
willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies another person and makes a
credible threat to that person. The elements of these two new offenses and the definitions
provided in the bill are the same as the elements and definitions in the stalking statute.
IV. Constitutional Issues:
A. Municipality/County Mandates Restrictions:
None.
B. Public Records/Open Meetings Issues:
None.
C. Trust Funds Restrictions:
None.
V. Fiscal Impact Statement:
A. Tax/Fee Issues:
None.
B. Private Sector Impact:
Persons convicted of bullying and aggravated bullying under the bill will potentially be
subject to a criminal fine of up to $1,000 and $5,000, respectively.

12
Section 784.048(2), F.S.
13
Section 784.048(3), F.S.
14
Section 784.048(4), (5), and (7), F.S. BILL: SB 548 Page 4

C. Government Sector Impact:
The Criminal Justice Impact Conference met on January 30, 2014 and determined that the
prison bed impact from this bill is insignificant.
VI. Technical Deficiencies:
None.
VII. Related Issues:
None.
VIII. Statutes Affected:
This bill creates section 784.049 of the Florida Statutes.
IX. Additional Information:
A. Committee Substitute – Statement of Changes:
(Summarizing differences between the Committee Substitute and the prior version of the bill.)
None.
B. Amendments:
None.
This Senate Bill Analysis does not reflect the intent or official position of the bill’s introducer or the Florida Senate.

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