Texas attorney general wants lower penalty for teen 'sexting'

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by Quita Culpepper / KVUE News

khou.com

Posted on November 9, 2010 at 12:45 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 9 at 12:53 AM

AUSTIN -- A state lawmaker and the attorney general hope to pass new laws for teens and sexting during the next legislative session.

Right now, under Texas law, some sexting can actually be considered child pornography, so anyone, including a teenager, who is caught with those pictures can face two to 20 years in prison. This new law would have teens face a Class A misdemeanor instead, and those in favor of it say they are confident the legislation will pass.
 
“As many as one in five teenagers have sent a sexually suggestive picture or video of themselves electronically and nearly one in three has received such an image,” said State Senator Kirk Watson.
 
It is a trend that has Watson and Attorney General Greg Abbott worried.
 
“Sometimes it can mean embarrassment for the rest of the school year and maybe for years to come,” Abbott said.
 
Sexting pictures of a minor is also a felony under the Texas child pornography law. That is why Watson and Abbott are working to create new legislation that would make sexting a class a misdemeanor for teens, keeping them from spending years behind bars or having to register as a sex offender for life.
 
It will ensure that school districts are doing a much better job of teaching our children the dangers of this practice and it will allow children who engage in this practice to be punished but not irrevocably ruined.
 
In the Austin Independent School District, sexting is covered under the district's cyber bullying policy. AISD says the number of sexting cases it has seen is on the rise.
 
“In some cases we're dealing with middle school students who just don't understand,” said General Counsel Mel Waxler. “ I think this is going to be a a very very important and strong step in offering better and more meaningful consequences for an offense that's still very very serious.”
 
Teens that spoke with KVUE agree, saying a youthful indiscretion should not brand someone for life.
 
“I think they should change it from being a felony, that's necessary, it's out of proportion for that,” said Logan Levalley. “Because it can ruin some kids life down the road just for making a stupid mistake.”
 

“You make a lot of mistakes when you're a kid, you learn from them and then you don't do it anymore. so if one kid makes a mistake then that's going to ruin the rest of their life with a felony, “ said student Sander Gilbert.
 
The new legislation breaks down into three sections. The first: creating the new offense of sexting in state law. The second: launching an innovative tier approach to prosecuting so that the punishment fits crime. The third: educating students and parents about all impacts of sexting.
 
Abbott and Watson say any lawmaker who votes against this bill would have to be in favor of teen sexting, so they are pretty confident it will pass. If it does, the new law could go into effect by next September, near the beginning of the new school year.

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