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Texas anti-cyberbullying bill modeled after Maryland law

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"Grace was, from the moment she was born, a joyful happy child. Just a bright light," said Grace's mom, Christine McComas (News 4 San Antonio Photo).

As Texas lawmakers consider bringing forth an anti-cyberbullying law next legislative session, they're modeling it after one law in particular.

In 2013, Maryland lawmakers passed a cyberbullying law they say helps protect minors against vicious online attacks. As part of News 4 San Antonio's "Make It Stop" campaign to end bullying, our Erin Nichols traveled to Maryland to learn the story behind "Grace's Law."

"Grace was, from the moment she was born, a joyful happy child. Just a bright light," said Grace's mom, Christine McComas.

On the porch steps of her home in Woodbine, Maryland, Christine remembers her daughter, Grace.

"I never ever expected she could end her life," she said. "It was like a slow motion car crash."

Fifteen-year-old Grace McComas took her own life on Easter Sunday, 2012. She was the victim of cyberbullying attacks on Twitter.

It would be things like, "I hate, hate, hate you. Next time my name rolls off your tongue, choke on it and die," said McComas.

It pushed Grace to the breaking point.

"To her it felt constant. It never goes away. And it was enough," said Christine. "As we stood over her body and knew she was brain dead, it was just an incredible sense of injustice and we knew something had to change."

That change came through the help of Maryland state lawmakers.

In 2013, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, a republican state senator at the time, co-introduced "Grace's Law" to the Maryland legislature.

Under the law, adults found bullying minors through a computer or smartphone could face from a $500 fine to one year in prison.

"It's certainly an issue where almost everyone would say something needs to be done, but there were people who were concerned about freedom of speech, advocates worried about getting too many people involved," said Kittleman. "People worried about putting children in jail, and there was also politics."

The law passed unanimously, just four days shy of the one year anniversary of Grace's death.

Since then, Kittleman says the law has acted as a deterrent in several known cases.

In Texas, State Senator Jose Menendez has pledged to introduce a similar law named after 16-year-old David Molak who committed suicide in January after his family said he was cyberbullied.

"Current legislation, I believe, in Texas is lagging in what technology and people are doing and we want to be up to date," Menendez said.

In Maryland, the mission is to now increase awareness of the law.

"The more the word gets out, then I think it can have the impact people want it to have. If people don't know it exists, it doesn't help," Kittleman said.

Grace's mom knows her daughter now has a legacy, but it's all bittersweet.

"It doesn't bring my child back. It doesn't correct that I won't see her again in this life," said Christine. "I'm hoping in say 30 years we look back to this period of time the way we view drunk driving today as a crime. We'll look back and say this was a new thing. We didn't have a handle on it. But now we do."

Interview with Grace's Mom (Christine McComas)


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