Bill would make harassment a separate crime

Harassment would become a separate and distinct crime from stalking in Nebraska under a bill heard Jan. 23 by the Judiciary Committee.

LB707, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, also would specify that use of an electronic communication device to stalk or harass could be prosecuted either where the communication originated or where it was received.

Under the bill, an individual would be guilty of harassment if he or she, without a lawful purpose, engages in conduct directed at a specific person or family with the intent to cause a person to feel alarmed, harassed, terrified, threatened or intimidated.

A person convicted of harassment would be guilty of a Class II misdemeanor. A second or subsequent violation would be a Class I misdemeanor.

Additionally, the bill would clarify that prior out-of-state sexual assault offenses can be considered by Nebraska courts for admissibility.

Conrad said the National Center for Victims of Crime reports that 6.6 million people over age 18 will be stalked in the U.S. in any given year. Of those victims, she said, 76 percent are women.

Harassment is an escalation of stalking, Conrad said, and should incur a stricter penalty.

John Freudenberg of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office testified in support of the bill, saying that laws related to sexual assault and harassment need to be updated as society becomes more mobile.

“State lines are of no significance to sexual and domestic predators,” he said. “Nebraska state boundaries should not be allowed to act as a shield for them.”

Denise Frost of the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association testified in opposition to the bill, saying many of the changes contained in LB707 are unnecessary. For example, Frost said, most individuals charged with the type of crimes outlined in the bill would have that offense “stacked” with other similar offenses.

“There is no need to increase penalties for these types of crimes,” Frost said. “There is no need to change the law when it comes to sentencing.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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