Lawmakers talk sexting, stalking

Posted: Tuesday, February 15, 2011

House Bill 127, one of Gov. Sean Parnell's proposals he says are aimed at protecting the most vulnerable Alaskans -- children, the elderly, the disabled -- was heard in the House Judiciary Committee last week.

HB 127 would expand the crime of stalking by adding to the definition of nonconsensual contact to include monitoring the victim with a GPS device and using or installing a device to record or photograph events concerning the victim. It also increases penalties for unlawful exploitation of a minor, online enticement of a minor, and provides for the prosecution of offenders from out of state. The bill adopts new offenses including sending explicit images of a minor and misconduct involving confidential information.

Section 7 of the bill, which covers "sexting" or sending explicit messages and photographs by text message, drew major discussion as it was considered by some to be too broad, leading to concerns it would scoop in people the proposal doesn't intend to bring in.

A minor sending an explicit picture of himself would not be charged under subsection B but, for example, if a boyfriend took an explicit picture of a girlfriend and sent it to her and her alone, he would be liable under the statues.

"We are really looking for people who are into wide distribution or furthering the increase in the porn market," Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Derek DeGraaf said. "Not just the foolish high school kids."

Another concern was if a person could be convicted of a felony if he sent a non-explicit but nude photograph of a minor, such as a baby-in-the-bathtub picture, via e-mail or text message.

"People can send photos as attached text, IM, e-mail," DeGraaf said. "It all sort of blends. The data actually travels over the same wires."

The bill might also make non-predatory adults or even teenagers convicted sex offenders. A teenager applying for college would have to list that conviction and it might be a barrier to enlistment in the military as well.

Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, stated when he as a kid, all children wished they could have a camera.

"Now at the other end of the circle every preteen and teenager has a camera," Gatto said.

"This section is very difficult for us. I wish I could assemble seven teens and seven preteens who are all cell phone users and get their experience because as adults it all looks bad. To teens, it is 'what's the big deal? Buzz off, this is the stuff we do all the time.'"

"I know it when I see it, but I cannot write down the rules which make it illegal without infringing on the other parts that make it OK." Gatto said.

Two attending teens in the audience were asked their opinions.

Jessica Loukon, 17, said she has never looked at the bill or read it.

"I do understand what you are saying about taking a photo and sending it to your mother," Loukon said. "But in regards to the teens sending photos of other teens or minors those could be forwarded so easily to adults or other groups. I understand that part of our society is trying to get rid of this to provide a safer environment. I am homeschooled and (have) been in a sheltered environment. I have different morals and standards than most teens my age. I am still trying to form my own opinions and I choose my friends who reflect that same morals."

Fifteen-year-old Tiffany Bonoit said spam and explicit e-mails arrive to her Facebook account and her 12-year-old cousin is exposed to the same thing.

"This is something I care about," Bonoit said. "The fact that my cousin has to confront that on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis is disturbing."

"I would just remind you that there are young teens out there that do not like the idea of sending the graphic message. But the younger you are when you see it the harder it is to break away from that." she said.

Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said he was heading home this weekend for his 5-year-old's birthday party and it will be on his mind now.

"There are a lot of what ifs," Pruitt said. "Are there a lot of pictures being taken at high school in a malicious way or as fun?"

Alaska State Trooper Lt. Rodney Dial stated the passage of the legislation would have no fiscal impact on the department and Attorney General John Burns said that although the bill would adopt new crimes they could be prosecuted with current resources.

HB 127 was supposed to have been heard again last Friday but there was no time available.

The bill is part of a package of proposals from Parnell to fight exploitation and abuse of Alaskans. Other parts of that package include strengthening laws against financial exploitation of older Alaskans, obtaining more funding for village public safety officers and cracking down on domestic and sexual violence.

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