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Sexting Penalties Would Be Reduced for Teens if Kentucky Bill Passes

Youngsters would be spared a felony if they got caught trading nude pictures among themselves – a practice known as sexting – under a bill that passed out of the Kentucky Senate this week by a unanimous vote.

Senate Bill 37 would address people under the age of 18 who violate the state law by sending sexually explicit images – both photos and videos – of themselves or other minors via mobile phones. It would reduce the penalty from a felony to a Class-B misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class-A misdemeanor for all subsequent offenses. Former prosecutor Sen. Wil Schroder (R-Wilder) said the lower penalty would still allow judges to impose fines, education requirements and community service.

Sen. Joe Bowen (R-Owensboro) said he introduced the legislation because everyone in judicial system – from police officers, prosecutors, and judges – needed additional options to punish teens instead of just branding them felons for life. A conviction under the current law could even land a teenager on the sex offender register.

“They had identified a problem … within our juvenile population and that problem actually revolves around this little device right here,” Bowen said while pointing to a mobile phone he was holding. “Used properly, we can accomplish a lot with this – get a lot of good things done. Used improperly, it can cause a lot of problems.

“We as adults should be about to distinguish right from wrong and use that device properly. But the fact of the matter is, we are not the only ones that use this. I dare say that our juvenile population might use it more than we do. Often times in their use in this device they make youthful indiscretions – make bad choices.”

Another former prosecutor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville), said SB 37 allows judges to impose a more nuanced punishment and teach juveniles how serious the crime is without destroying the youths’ futures.

“This allows them to have a criminal penalty and face consequences, but hopefully use it has a learning exercise and not carry a felony conviction – much less sex-offender registry for the rest of their lives,” Westerfield said.

"Charlie Brown" bill clears Senate

The Senate also passed a second piece of legislation during the 2016 General Assembly designed to protect the expression of religious viewpoints in schools after a district removed a biblical reference in a stage adaptation of A Charlie Brown Christmas this past winter.

Senate Bill 106 would permit public schools to sponsor artistic or theatrical programs that advance students’ knowledge or society’s cultural and religious heritage and traditions. SB 106 passed by a unanimous vote on Thursday before moving to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Sen. Brandon Smith (R-Hazard) said he introduced SB 106 because of a “firestorm” in December that Johnson County school officials created by removing a Bible passage that the character Linus was supposed to recite during a student production of the well-known Peanuts story. Smith said during one performance parents in audience stood up and loudly recited the censored lines on their own.

“I think most of us growing up in the school system would have never given a thought to the fact that we were somehow in violation of the law by doing the Peanuts play, but somehow this happened,” Smith said.

Last month, the Senate passed Senate Bill 15. It would set forth in statute what some protected activities for students are by enumerating the rights of students to express religious and political viewpoints in public schools – including state universities. That would include homework, artwork, speeches and religious messages on items of clothing.

SB 15 was assigned to the House Education Committee on Feb. 8 for further consideration.

Sen. Reginald Thomas (D-Lexington) explained why he voted for both SB 106 and SB 15.

“I am opposed to any kind of censorship of art and theater,” he said, but added he had concerns about another bill addressing religious freedom.

That measure, known as Senate Bill 180, would prohibit government from compelling services or actions from anyone if doing so conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs. During a recent meeting of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs & Public Protection, supporters of SB 180 said it would protect religious liberty of citizens while detractors said it would allow discrimination and would undermine fairness ordinances passed by local municipalities.

SB 180 has received two reading in the Senate but has not been acted on by the full body.

From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo by JH Photography via Wiki Commons