- Associated Press - Thursday, March 1, 2018

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - The Maryland Senate passed a bill Thursday to strengthen a state law to address online bullying of children.

The measure, passed unanimously, now goes to the House.

Sen. Robert Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the legislation, says the state’s 2013 law hasn’t kept pace with technology and needs updating. The bill is named “Grace’s Law 2.0,” after 15-year-old Grace McComas, of Woodbine, Maryland, who committed suicide in 2012 after repeated online bullying by a neighbor on social media.

“This is a problem that’s not getting any better,” Zirkin said. “Our law just didn’t work the way it should have, and hopefully by doing this we will take the next step in making sure the children don’t get bullied online to the point where they just don’t see a future for themselves.”

The bill ends the requirement that a course of conduct be established to punish someone who bullies a child online. It also prohibits someone from posing as another person in electronic communication with the intention of harassing a child.

The measure also creates new penalties. For example, a person who intentionally induces a child online to commit suicide could face a penalty of up to 10 years on prison.

But David Rocah, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said the measure is far too broad. Rocah, who said the ACLU will fight the measure in the House, said language in the bill already has been declared an unconstitutional restriction on First Amendment rights by a federal court in Maryland when the court considered similar language in a federal law.

“It is an incredibly broad restriction on speech that will have far-reaching and devastating presumably unintended consequences,” Rocah said. “I share the feeling of the sponsors that bullying is a problem. What we don’t share with the sponsors is the faith that this incredibly broad restriction on speech is the correct approach to that problem.”

There were 576 violations filed under the current law in Maryland between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, according to court records.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2016 Bullying Fact Sheet found that about 16 percent of high school students reported in 2015 that they were bullied electronically during the 12 months preceding the survey.

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