Politics & Government

Bill to prompt more prosecution of teen sexting advances

A bill seeking to limit widespread sexting by teenagers advanced in the state Senate Monday.

The intent of the bill is to generate more prosecutions of teens for sharing naked pictures of each other by reducing the penalty for doing it.

Senate Bill 391 would create a new misdemeanor crime if a person under the age of 19 shares nude or semi-nude photos of a minor who is between 12 and 16 years old.

A minor who sends such a photo of him- or herself to someone else wouldn’t violate the law.

But people under age 19 who receive the message would have to immediately delete it from their phone or other electronic device, or face potential prosecution.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, said the bill is designed to “address the behavior of tweens and teens that are 21st-century digital natives.”

With smartphones and tablets now in widespread use by teens, sexting has become a common practice, and some juveniles are “collecting nude images like baseball cards,” Baumgardner said.

She said sexting is the “most underprosecuted juvenile crime in the nation.”

She said prosecutors are reluctant to bring sexting charges against teens because the only laws they can enforce now are serious felonies requiring lifetime registration as a sex offender.

Baumgardner said SB 391 would establish punishments that fit the crimes, misdemeanors that would only escalate to felony levels on repeat offenses.

Senate Bill 391 would not reduce any crime levels or penalties for people older than age 19 possessing and/or trading nude photos of juveniles. That would remain a felony offense subject to sex-offender registration.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas