Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's a bill that caught my attention. A Pennsylvania state legislature has proposed a law to make sending sexually explicit text messages a misdemeanor, not a felony. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
But while the practice, usually done by teenagers, seems foolish or risky at best, it shouldn't scar youths for years by saddling them with an arrest for a felony, as it does now, said Rep. Tom Caltagirone, D-Berks, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. His committee will start the process to change that this week.
"A lot of these kids are teenagers and they do dumb things," he said. "All of us have done dumb things when we were kids. We want to stop this from being a felony. It could carry through the rest of their lives. They'll have to list a felony arrest on job applications."
As it turns out, this is a small trend. An Ohio lawmaker is offering a similar bill. Utah and Vermont both approved legislation along these lines last year. I'd guess that other states are studying the issue this year too.
All of this comes as something of a surprise to me, having observed how legislatures typically treat crimes related to sex. A few years ago, bipartisan majorities in legislatures were passing bills to prevent sex offenders from living near schools, parks, etc.
They were passing these laws even though there was a pretty strong case -- a case regularly made by law-enforcement organizations -- that the laws wouldn't actually make the public safer. Law enforcement argued that the laws encouraged sex offenders to stop reporting their addresses at all, which made them harder to track. Plus, does the place a person lives really affect his or her ability to commit sex crimes?
The reason these laws received strong bipartisan support was, of course, politics. No one wanted to be on the side of sex offenders. Eventually, passion for the concept cooled, but not before many states already had laws on the books.
The media has been hyping sexting and parents seem concerned. But, so far, it sounds as though legislators are taking a more measured approach.
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