Proposed bill would make cyberbullying a crime in West Virginia

A proposed bill would make cyberbullying a crime in West Virginia. (WCHS/WVAH)

Cyberbullying is a problem for many kids in West Virginia and one of the biggest issues students face today.

It often leads to substance abuse, mental health issues and even suicide.

Two of West Virginia's youngest delegates, Saira Blair and Josh Higginbotham, who graduated high school in 2014, are trying to make a difference with a new House bill.

"We need something like this in West Virginia where we're updating our code to match other states," Higginbotham said.

The bill will expand West Virginia law if someone is stalking, harassing or threatening a child to provide extra punishment to the perpetrator.

"We see it everyday. There are young people being attacked by other young people, by their parents, whether they're athletes or in some type of competition it happens, and I believe this bill will help to address that problem," Higginbotham said.

Huntington Middle School counselor, Laura Thackston, said unless there is a change, cyberbullying will continue to be an issue.

"Cyberbullying is such a big deal right now and I think it will continue to be a big deal," Thackston said.

She said the school has taken steps to prevent cyberbullying by banning cell phones during class.

"They have to put it in their locker, if we see a phone," Thackston said. "I don't know if we will ever have a complete solution, to it as long as we have the internet, and social media which we always will but we do need to work together to try to safeguard our kids as much as we possibly can."

The bill has passed through the House Judiciary Committee. It would apply to both minors and adults who bully a child.

"I believe this will save people from the fear of intimidation, save young people, high school, middle school kids from these death threats by adults and by other kids too," Higginbotham said.

The penalties would include a fine or community service if a child were to commit suicide, the punishment of the perpetrator would be more severe.

The next step is for the bill to head to the House floor for a vote.

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