AUSTIN -- The Texas Senate voted Thursday to give prosecutors flexibility in punishing teenagers who make a youthful mistake so that mistake doesn't haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Under current law, a minor found guilty of sending a sexually-explicit image of themselves or another minor, an activity known as "sexting", can only be prosecuted under the child pornography statutes of Texas law. Austin Senator Kirk Watson said that while this is an activity that parents and lawmakers want to stop, they don't want to punish a minor permanently for a youthful indiscretion.
"This attempts to address that issue, but not put our young people who just might do something stupid in a situation where they're going to carry the life-altering consequences of a felony conviction including registration as a sex offender," he said.
His bill, SB 407, would make "sexting" a misdemeanor offense. This would only apply to minors who send these sort of messages, not adults. The bill was amended by Senator Joan Huffman of Southside Place to address those on the receiving end of these messages. Her amendment would protect someone who may have been sent a sexually explicit message provided they report the incident or delete the image in a reasonable period of time.
"We're not trying to sweep in all these kids that might have been on the receiving end of something offensive, didn't pass it on, maybe did something a little silly like showed it to someone next to it, but then deleted it within a reasonable period of time," she said.
SB 407 would also create curriculum designed to teach minors about the psychological and social consequences of sending sexually explicit messages to friends.
The Senate also passed another bill Thursday, dealing with "Romeo and Juliet" situations, where a young man or woman might be sexually active with a person just a few years younger than them, but under the age of majority.
The age of consent in Texas is seventeen, but if a younger person enters into a non-violent, consensual sexual relationship with a person 18 or older, their partner could be convicted of sexual assault of a minor and forced to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives. This bill would not legalize sex between minors and adults, but if the adult was no more than four years older than the minor, and the minor is at least 15 years old, the adult would not have to register as a sex offender if convicted of a crime.
Both bills now head to the House for consideration.