January 21, 2016

Committee passes bill to allow more charges on child porn

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The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill to expand possible charges for possession of child pornography on Thursday, setting the stage for quick passage on the House floor as early as next week.

RoundhouseThe main focus of the child pornography bill was on the portion that would allow charges for “each separate depiction” of a child under 18—that is separate charges for each image.

The child pornography bill would also add an extra six months in jail—which could not be deferred or suspended—for each images of children who can be proven to be under the age of 13.

Every member of the panel agreed that the crimes were horrific and those who broke the law deserved to serve time in prison—with many advocating for a long time.

The question came over just how much jail time the person could receive and if this was the best way to punish those who possess child pornography.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, said that the current law was not the right approach. She said that under the current law, individuals who possibly have hundreds or thousands of images of child pornography don’t “have the possibility to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Anticipating some of the concerns to come, Clara Moran said that with the change in law, “We’re not taking thousands of counts, hundreds of counts to jury trial.”

She said that she would instead choose 30-40 counts to try.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, was one of the two legislators to vote against the bill’s passage, saying while he supported the effort, he did not support the approach.

He said the question that they should be asking is not how many counts of 18 months they should have, but  “what do these guys deserve? Do they deserve 10 years, do they deserve 20 years?”

He said the question should be, “Where does it fit in the criminal code?”

Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, also voted against passage, but also expressed concern that a charge is still just for 18 months in jail.

He also said that he thinks the approach would be challenged in court.

“I’m really worried that at the end of this year that we’re going to be back to square one where we don’t have anything,” he said.

Afterward, Maestas sent a statement to NM Political Report.

“It shouldn’t matter if they have 100 child porn photos or one photo,” Maestas said. “We need to increase the prison time for these criminals regardless of the quantity.”

“Protecting our children should be a top priority for all legislators,” Maestas Barnes said in a statement. “We cannot afford to have another child victimized so we must pass this critical bill this legislative session.”

She also said that she didn’t view it as a political issue.

The committee also passed two pieces of legislation related to intentional child abuse, without nearly as much discussion.

There were concerns about what “intent” means in the law; that is, the intent would be for the action that causes child abuse and not intent to commit child abuse.

None of the legislation has a second committee assignment, so they will go directly to the floor for consideration. Legislation must sit on the speaker’s desk for one day before they can be passed except in rare circumstances.

The three pieces of legislation are part of efforts to pass more tough-on-crime legislation this session. The passage in the first week of the session could be a signal at the importance.

It is also likely an effort to push the Senate, which typically takes longer to consider bills and has prided itself on being the more deliberative of the two bodies.

The legislation related to child pornography received a specific mention in Gov. Susana Martinez’s State of the State Address. Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, also supports the changes.

“This particular bill isn’t about any kind of political victory for anybody,” Maestas Barnes said. “It’s about protecting our kids. And for anyone to suggest otherwise is extremely insulting.”

However, hours after the passage, the Republican Party of New Mexico sent outa  press release with a sharply political tone.

“When Democrats vote against desperately needed legislation protecting our children and Senate Democrat leaders like Sanchez kill legislation that’s tougher on child porn, its clear to New Mexicans that the Democrat party doesn’t have a child’s interests at heart,” said spokesman W. Tucker Keene. “Protecting children from violent predators and sexual exploitation is extremely important even if Democrats don’t agree.”

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