While a bill to toughen child-pornography penalties makes its way through the Legislature, some disagree with the attorney general’s opposition to an exemption that would protect some teens in consensual relationships from prosecution if they send photos to each other.
“If it’s between consenting teens then no, they shouldn’t be charged with child pornography. That’s ridiculous,” said Brandy Thompson of Albuquerque.
But Attorney General Hector Balderas disagrees. His staff walked out of a testy legislative hearing Tuesday after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, accepted an amendment to exempt consenting teens ages 14-17.
“I cannot support an amendment that weakens protections for teenagers from predatory activity, creates a dangerous new child exploitation loophole, and places New Mexico’s federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force funding in jeopardy,” The Santa Fe New Mexican quoted Balderas as saying.
The bill originally proposed giving prosecutors the ability to charge people with one felony per pornographic image of a child they possessed. It passed the House like that, but has been heavily amended in the Senate after some lawmakers raised concerns about overly harsh punishment for “sexting” teens and weak laws related to creating child pornography.
The bill “now calls for a 10-year prison term for possession, 11 years for distribution and 12 years for ‘manufacturing’ lewd images of children,” according to The New Mexican. And, as it stands, the legislation does exempt consenting teens ages 14-17 who send each other images.
Sens. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, and George Muñoz, D-Gallup, were among those expressing concerns about teens in consensual relationships.
Jennifer Burrill of Clovis called the amendment “a good compromise.”
“If kids can legally do it in person, it should not be criminal for them show themselves to their boy/girlfriend over the phone,” Burrill said.
“The purpose of the law is to keep kids from being exploited,” she said. “The amendment doesn’t change that.”
Cindy Madrid of Socorro agreed.
“You have to give parents a chance to discover it, delete it and stop it… a couple of times maybe,” Madrid said.
To become law, the bill would have to pass the Senate Finance Committee and receive approval of the full Senate, then go back to the House for concurrence with the changes, before the session ends at noon Thursday. It would also have to be signed by Gov. Susana Martinez.