Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sexting Hot Issue With Many State Legislatures

Last month I wrote about the Tunkhannock Effect for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly, The article explored the many traps that existed for a prosecutor who wanted to do the right thing but over stepped his boundaries. The First Amendment got into the way and may have an impact on the proliferation of sexting legislation around the country.

This year, at least 16 states have introduced or are considering bills or resolutions aimed at sexting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In general, the legislation is aimed at educating youth about the risks of sexting, deterring them from the practice and imposing penalties for taking part in the activity.

Illinois enacted a law this year that makes it misdemeanor offense for those under age 17 to knowingly disseminate materials that depict nudity or other sexual activity by electronic transfer.

Arizona enacted a law that makes it a misdemeanor to use an electronic communication device to transmit visual sexual depictions of minors.

The Indiana Senate passed a bill earlier this year that would make it a separate delinquent act for those under age 18 to disseminate any material that depicts nudity or sexual conduct of minors. But there was confusion over the bill, and the issue was punted to the study committee.

"It's a national concern," Indiana State Representative Linda Lawson, chairwoman of the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee, told the Associated Press. "Parents are concerned, schools are concerned. My job is to figure out what we should do here."

Lawmakers should move cautiously in trying to curb the practice of teens sending racy photos or videos of minors by cell phones. In Pennsylvania, policymakers have learned that influencing morality, interfering with the First Amendment and being overzealous can undo the best of intentions.

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