Anti-stalking bill would cover harassment over text and email

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- A bill that brings Arizona's anti-stalking laws into the 21st century is now headed to the governor.

HB 2549 would make it illegal to "terrify, intimidate, threaten or harass" a person through electronic communication like texts, emails and instant messaging.

The current state law is 40 years old.

"It was put on the books back in the early '70s and we've just never gotten around to updating it, and the fact of the matter is we communicate in a vastly different way in 2012," State Rep. Ted Vogt (R, Dist. 30) said.

Vogt, the bill's sponsor, says the current law makes it illegal to "annoy" or "offend" someone. That language was removed from the new bill after free-speech advocates raised concern about the wording.

"We're not engaging in Internet censorship," Vogt assured. "That's not what this bill has ever been about. It's really about someone who has been harassed or stalked by an individual."

The bill, which was passed on Monday by both the House and Senate, does not cover harassment on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

"If you're leaving your Facebook message board open, you're basically soliciting people to leave messages there. And especially with Facebook you have the ability to delete those posts and ban a user," Vogt said.

Cynthia, who declined to share her last name, said she lived in fear for five years after her 15-year marriage soured and her ex-husband started filling up her voice mailbox and sent her lengthy emails asking her to get back together.

"When I was ready to file for divorce, basically the emotional abuse got worse and I was stalked and harassed," Cynthia said. "I was afraid he was around every corner. You never know what's going to happen next. That's part of the intimidation and the bullying."

The mother of three says her ex ended up spending some time in jail after he pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment and criminal trespassing.

Her life now is much more secure.

"I'm really grateful for anything that will protect people from that kind of crime," she said.

It's now up to Gov. Jan Brewer to sign the measure into law or veto it.