AG’s office walks out over change to child porn bill

A successful amendment to a bill to crack down on child porn caused staffers from a key state agency to storm out of the committee room in apparent protest. After lawmakers in the Senate Finance Committee voted to exempt teenage sexting from a measure increasing penalties on possession of child porn, Clara Moran, the division […]

AG’s office walks out over change to child porn bill

A successful amendment to a bill to crack down on child porn caused staffers from a key state agency to storm out of the committee room in apparent protest.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. Courtesy photo.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. Courtesy photo.

After lawmakers in the Senate Finance Committee voted to exempt teenage sexting from a measure increasing penalties on possession of child porn, Clara Moran, the division director for special prosecutions at the state Attorney General’s office and others from that office walked out of the committee room.

Related Story: AG gives explanation for child porn bill walkout

Until that point, Moran acted as the expert witness for sponsors and Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, and Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque.

Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, was not pleased.

“I’ve been here eight years and I’ve never seen a state department leave on a bill as critical as this,” Munoz, who authored the amendment, said. “It’s an embarrassment. It’s a joke.”

Still, the committee passed the bill unanimously. It now goes to the Senate floor, though would need concurrence from the House before being sent to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk.

The Senate panel then passed the bill unanimously without Attorney General Hector Balderas’ support. Balderas has pushed hard for closing what he’s called a loophole in the state’s child exploitation statute for two years.

“Attorney General staff walked out in support of stronger protections for children,” Attorney General spokesman James Hallinan told NM Political Report.

In a prepared statement, Balderas denounced the amendment.

“I cannot support an amendment that weakens protections for teenagers from predatory activity, creates a dangerous new child exploitation loophole, and places New Mexico’s federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force funding in jeopardy,” Balderas said.

He also criticized Munoz for creating “political distractions.”

The bill toughens penalties for possessing child pornography to up to 10 years, distributing child pornography up to 11 years and manufacturing up to 12 years. Though the bill was moving forward throughout this session, lawmakers had been raising concerns, including being attacked politically for voting against the legislation despite what they saw as flaws.

In Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Sens. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, and Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, expressed objections over not exempting teenage sexting.

“The 17-year-old taking a sexually exploitive photo to her 18-year-old boyfriend, he opens the phone and it’s child porn,” Torraco said at the time.

She later added: “The problem I have if I vote for against it here, all the bloggers and my election opponent will say I voted against child exploitation.”

McSorley mentioned being a “furious parent” with an experience he recently had.

“I saw some pictures on my daughter’s phone that made me mad,” he said. “But those kids don’t deserve to be in jail.”

Sarah Maestas Barnes
Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque

In the meeting last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to pass the bill with the hopes that it would be amended by the time it got to the Senate floor.

Those same reservations continued today, with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the state Law Offices of the Public Defender and the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association supporting the amendment.

A representative from the state Children, Youth and Services Department testified that only 10 people have been prosecuted under the existing state child exploitation law in the past three years. None of those cases involved minors relating to sexting issues, CYFD General Counsel Michael Heitz testified.

But Kim Chavez Cook of the Law Officers of the Public Defender contradicted the testimony, saying that several defense lawyers told her organization that they had represented clients who were minors relating to sexting issues. Similar problems have happened nationwide.

“This amendment does nothing to limit prosecuting trickle-down photos,” Cook said, referring to sexting images that go into unwanted hands.

So-called trickle-down photos were one of the warnings staffers at the Attorney General’s office said could happen under such an exemption. One staffer warned of the scenario of minors being forced by adults to produce child porn images as a potential loophole to the amendment, saying “it’s going to cause a nightmare for my prosecution agency.”

But senators on the finance committee, save Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas who voted against the amendment, weren’t buying the argument.

“These kids are active at this age,” Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sadia Park, said. “If you are a parent of a boy who goes to jail, it’s really serious.”

She said such an amendment wasn’t akin to the Legislature saying they’re legalizing teen sexting.

Both Maestas Barnes and Martinez said they could accept the amendment.

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session

A representative from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office outlined on Thursday the bills the governor’s office will back during the upcoming special session, but…
Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

By Justin Horwath, New Mexico In Dept Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is running for a fourth term despite the state Democratic Party’s decision to censure…
AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced on Thursday his legislative priorities for July’s special legislative session, including the creation of a crime victim’s unit to…
LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

By Alicia Inez Guzmán, Searchlight New Mexico Last fall, the international community rose up in defense of the Pacific Ocean. Seafood and salt purveyors,…
Program administrator outlines how waitlisted community solar projects will be selected

Program administrator outlines how waitlisted community solar projects will be selected

The program administrator for New Mexico’s community solar program released guidance Thursday for waitlisted projects. The new guidelines follow a petition from several developers…
Community organizations propose providing naturalized immigrants with public lands passes

Community organizations propose providing naturalized immigrants with public lands passes

A group of advocates are asking the federal government to give naturalized citizens a one-year pass to the national parks. President Joe Biden’s signing…
Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury secured $8.3 million for childhood development and youth services in the 1st congressional district through federal community project funding. Stansbury,…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf answered questions about the safety of human milk formula and mifepristone on Wednesday. Sen. Martin…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

With nearly 53 percent of the precincts reporting as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, most of the legislative candidates endorsed by Planned Parenthood Votes New…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
Senate Republicans block bill to ensure access to contraception

Senate Republicans block bill to ensure access to contraception

Senate Republicans blocked an effort to pass a bill to protect access to contraception this week. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján,…
Democrats announce spending on CD2 race

Democrats announce spending on CD2 race

The Democratic National Committee announced on Monday that it will spend $70,000 for organizing staff to aid U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, the Democrat trying…
Handful of legislators lose primaries

Handful of legislators lose primaries

Every legislative seat is up for grabs in 2024, which means all incumbents who sought reelection had to face the voters. Most did not…
Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

With nearly 53 percent of the precincts reporting as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, most of the legislative candidates endorsed by Planned Parenthood Votes New…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

By Alicia Inez Guzmán, Searchlight New Mexico Last fall, the international community rose up in defense of the Pacific Ocean. Seafood and salt purveyors,…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report