© 2024 KOSU
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Oklahoma lawmakers advance bill to enhance punishment for bullying that leads to suicide

Students gather near Owasso High School on Feb. 26, 2024 for a gathering to remember Nex Benedict.
Elizabeth Caldwell
Students gather near Owasso High School on Feb. 26, 2024 for a gathering to remember Nex Benedict.

Following two student deaths in Oklahoma, a state senator has introduced a bill to enhance penalties for individuals who bully people who later die by suicide.

The current punishment for aiding an attempted or successful suicide is up to two years in prison, a fine up to $1,000, or both.

Authored by Republican Paul Rosino, Senate Bill 1100 increases this punishment to at least seven years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. It also updates the current law to include cyber bullying.

The bill also makes trying to get someone to take their life a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Second and third offenses become felonies punishable by prison time and fines in the thousands.

The bill passed the Senate Thursday with a 38-8 vote.

These enhancements were introduced after the suicides of Owasso High School student Nex Benedict and Mustang High School student Jot Turner. Mustang Public Schools Superintendent Charles Bradley said the absence of cyberbullying language from the current law kept the school district from acting before Turner took his life.

Benedict, who was nonbinary, reportedly got in a fight in a school bathroom with three girls who had picked on them for how they dressed the day before their death.

“It’s a bill I wish I never had to run,” Rosino told the Senate floor, referencing the students.

Rosino said he worked with state Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s office to finalize the language of the bill. After Benedict’s death was ruled a suicide, Drummond posted on social media calling for stronger anti-bullying laws in Oklahoma.

Rosino said under the law, district attorneys can’t just prosecute anyone who makes a harassing statement.

“There has to be intent to go after someone or to harass, try to bully someone, it has to be intentional. So for us, if we get a social media post here, just because we’re mad, that would not apply,” Rosino said.

Democratic Sen. Carri Hicks asked Rosino during a Feb. 29 committee meeting if protecting people from being framed by fake online accounts is addressed in the bill. Rosino said the language of the bill was not finalized, although the current version doesn’t address this.

Hicks voted to pass the bill out of committee but later was one of six Democrats — three-fourths of the caucus — who voted against the bill on the Senate floor.

Democratic Sen. Kevin Matthews, who also voted against the bill, called Benedict’s death “a serious situation” and said bullying and suicide need to be addressed.

“I’m always hesitant of increasing penalties unless it proves that it works,” said Matthews, noting Oklahoma’s high incarceration rate. He also expressed concern that the bill could be enforced fairly.

After passing the Senate, the bill is now in the House of Representatives.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS.
KOSU is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.
Related Content