Sending a text message with the intent to threaten someone would be a criminal offense under a bill that received first-round approval in the Legislature Feb. 28.

Currently, a person commits the crime of intimidation by telephone if he or she telephones someone with the intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend. That is a Class III misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of three months in prison, a $500 fine or both.

A new bill, LB 773, sponsored by Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood, would add intimidation by electronic message, such as a text or an email, to the law.

Clements said it also would remove the terms “terrify,” “annoy” and “offend” to address First Amendment concerns.

Clements introduced the bill after the Plattsmouth Police Department notified his office of several reports of acts of intimidation, some of which used text messages, emails and instant messages.

“LB 773’s main purpose is to make sure law enforcement and prosecutors have the necessary tools to address intimidation, threats and harassment that have migrated from telephone calls to new forms of direct electronic communication like text messages, email and other forms of electronic communication,” he said.

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks spoke in support of the bill, saying that it recognizes that methods of intimidation and harassment have changed since the current law was passed in the 1970s.

“Modern technology has changed the ways that we interact with one another,” she said, “so our statutes need to be updated to reflect the new forms of communication and thus new ways in which people now bully one another.”

Children in particular are susceptible to bullying via these new forms of communication, Pansing Brooks added.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 28 percent of U.S students in grades 6-12 have experienced bullying, much of it using electronic communication, she said.

The bill advanced to select file (the second of three required rounds) on a 38-0 vote.