February 17, 2016

AG gives explanation for child porn bill walkout

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Courtesy photo

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Following a dramatic exit from his staffers Tuesday night during committee debate on a bill to increase penalties on possession of child porn, Attorney General Hector Balderas said he’s asking the Senate to “clean up” the measure.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. Courtesy photo.

“I think that child safety is the number one crisis in New Mexico,” Balderas said in an interview Wednesday. “I have my prosecutors fighting and lobbying for reforms.”

He said his staff will “absolutely protest” changes to proposed legislation that put children at risk.

Protest from staffers in his office came when Senate Finance Committee successfully moved to exempt teen sexting from a measure cracking down on child porn possession.

The measure, sponsored by Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, and Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, would toughen penalties for possessing child pornography of up to 10 years, distributing child pornography up to 11 years and manufacturing up to 12 years. They described the bill as as fix to make New Mexico tougher on those who possess child pornography.

Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, proposed the amendment and criticized attorney general staff for walking out of committee.

“I live in the real world,” Munoz said in a statement Wednesday. “Preventing criminal prosecution of teenagers who consensually exchange explicit images does not condone the conduct, it just prevents stupid, adolescent behavior from having life-changing criminal consequences.”

Balderas contended that local prosecutors don’t prosecute consensual teenage sexting. He argued that cases public defenders referred to representing teens who sexted were likely related to the same teens charged with separate felonies.

He said exempting consensual teen sexting should instead be done in the children’s criminal code and not the state Exploitation of Children Act.

Balderas warned of what he said were two unintended consequences of amending the measure. He said it doesn’t take into account teenagers living in domestic abuse situations or adults paying and compensating teenagers to create child porn. His office will follow the bill for the remainder of the session, which ends Thursday at noon.

On other legislative matters, Balderas expressed disappointment in the failure of bills establishing an independent ethics commission and requiring convicted public officials to forfeit their public pensions.

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