BOSTON — Amid concerns about bullying, Berkshire County representatives said they support Conrad's Law, a controversial bill intended to make it a crime in Massachusetts to coerce someone to commit suicide.

State Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, and Rep. Natalie Higgins, D-Leominster, filed bills in response to the case in Fairhaven, where then-17-year-old Michelle Carter in 2014 pressured her teenage boyfriend Conrad Roy through texts to kill himself, which he eventually did. Carter was convicted on an involuntary manslaughter charge in 2017, which the lawmakers believe is the wrong charge.

"I came here to tell you about my beloved son," said Lynn Roy, Conrad's mother, in her Judiciary Committee testimony last week. "No child should ever have to endure that type of onslaught. I'm here today to remind you and the people of Massachusetts that that is not acceptable to coerce an individual to kill themselves. Once that line is crossed we are entering a territory of evil and immoral behavior."

However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts believed Carter's conviction was unconstitutional the first time. The Plainville woman was sentenced to 15 months behind bars.

"Mr. Roy's death is a terrible tragedy, but it is not a reason to stretch the boundaries of our criminal laws or abandon the protections of our constitution," the ACLU said in a statement at the time. "Yet Ms. Carter has now been convicted of manslaughter, based on the prosecution's theory that, as a 17-year-old girl, she literally killed Mr. Roy with her words. This conviction exceeds the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions."

On the other hand, Daniel Medwed, a defense attorney and professor at Northeastern Law, testified in support of the measure and said although he rarely advocates for an increase to the criminal code, manslaughter was an inappropriate charge and a more "targeted solution" was necessary.

He said the bill was "nice and tight" and would only apply in egregious situations.

"It complies with our First Amendment jurisprudence. We're not punishing words alone," he said. "Speech is not always protected in a criminal law context. It may be a partially effective deterrent of the phenomenon of coerced suicide."

Members of the Berkshire County delegation did not express concerns about the bill potentially infringing on freedom of speech.

"A line has to be drawn in the sand and how we do that in particular we will debate in the Legislature," said state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. "There is going to be an effort to make sure that it doesn't create a slippery slope for convictions for crimes based on speech."

In another recent case in Massachusetts, a former Boston College student was indicted in a similar case where she pressured her boyfriend to kill himself and he eventually did on the day of his graduation.

"Again I just think it's tragic there was overwhelming evidence that the bullying from the former girlfriend was a significant contributing factor to his demise," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. "We can't tolerate that kind of behavior and I believe it's a crime."

In recent years, teen suicide rates have increased and reached their highest levels since 2000. The lawmakers all voiced concerns about bullying.

State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, said as a former educator, it's a concern in this "different world" and as such he didn't want to comment on how he used to deal with bullying in the classroom. However, he said he is confident schools in Berkshire County are taking the right steps to address it.

"You're comparing apples to oranges. It was over 30 years ago, we didn't have the internet. It's tough out there," he said. "As far as bullying goes, I think bullying is a problem it has to be worked on each and every day. It's not acceptable to bully people especially our younger generation."

He also drew a line between bullying in schools versus the examples leaders must set for the nation's children.

"It's the tone that's being set in Washington can sometimes encourage this [bullying] especially among young people to be acceptable. And it's unacceptable," he said.

Finegold and Higgins hope to set an example with Conrad's Law, although Massachusetts would be far from the first state to enact this kind of law. Forty-two states already have similar provisions, according to Lynn Roy.

"As a father of teenagers, I share many other parents' concerns about this epidemic," said Finegold in a news conference after his testimony. "I see on a daily basis how influential young people are to one another. They never leave their phones. Second, it will send a clear message that this behavior is not only unacceptable but it's criminal."