DENVER (AP) - Teen sexting is giving Colorado lawmakers an uncomfortable dilemma - when is a naughty photo between teens a modern form of flirting, and when is it child pornography?
The Democratic House started work Tuesday on two bills aimed at discouraging teen sexting.
But it’s not clear whether lawmakers will be able to agree what to do, or if they’ll disagree so strongly that the law doesn’t change.
Both sides agree that Colorado needs to change, because any child in possession of an image of another minor is guilty of a felony-level sex offense. That law is seldom enforced, and child psychologists say sexting is common and normal.
“This really is a question of the law trying to catch up with technology,” said Democratic Rep. Pete Lee, one of the bill sponsors.
But not everyone agrees that sexting shouldn’t be a crime.
The two bills before the House Tuesday spelled out different penalties. One would send sexting kids to education classes, with no possibility of felony charges.
But prosecutors and some victims’ advocates say that some cases of sexting can be used to bully or harass, and that police should have the option to bring felony charges in cases where people use naked photos for serious crimes.
A supporter of the felony option sponsors the other sexting bill, Republican Rep. Yeulin Willett.
“Unlike sex between two people, (sexting) creates a forever and potentially worldwide electronic perpetuity that can be hacked, it can be stolen,” Willett said.
A House committee heard from both sides Tuesday but delayed a vote, meaning it’s unclear whether anything will pass.
Colorado is just one of many states to review child exploitation laws in response to teen sexting. But no state has removed all felony possibilities for teen sexts.
At least 20 states have adopted sexting laws with less-serious penalties, mostly within the past five years. Eleven states have made sexting between teens a misdemeanor. In some of those places, prosecutors can require youngsters to take courses on the dangers of social media instead of charging them with a crime.
Colorado’s sexting started after a 2015 scandal in Canon City, where more than 100 high school students were found with explicit images of other teens. Dozens of students were suspended, and the football team forfeited the final game of the season.
Fremont County prosecutors ultimately decided against filing any criminal charges, saying Colorado law doesn’t properly distinguish between adult sexual predators and misbehaving teenagers.
Kristen Wyatt can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/APkristen wyatt
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