Attorney general not apologizing for walkout over sexting amendment

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UPDATE: During Senate debate over HB 65, experts from the Attorney General’s office were not allowed on the Senate floor, with one senator saying they “haven’t been helpful” in this process.

SANTA FE (KRQE) – A battle over a teen sexting amendment to a child porn bill has led to a war of words late in the legislative session.

HB 65 was originally intended as a bill to allow prosecutors to charge those caught making, distributing or possessing child pornography with separate charges for each image. That bill was heavily amended in the Senate to simply increase penalties for those crimes before it landed in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday night.

Yet another change to HB 65 in that committee has sparked some bad blood between New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup.

Munoz proposed an amendment that would exempt teens who consensually send each other naked pictures from the state’s child porn laws. Currently, they can be charged with a felony for sexting.

“Teenage kids, they get caught up in everything,” said Munoz. “We don’t really want to ruin their life because they make a mistake.”

Munoz said he wasn’t opposed to strengthening child porn laws, but wanted to make sure teen behavior wouldn’t lead to lifetime consequences. That amendment was supported by almost everyone on the committee.

“I am in full support of that bill but what you wouldn’t want would be to have an unintended consequence,” said Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park. “What we wouldn’t want to do is have a ruination of a young boy’s life because of teenage play.”

Balderas though, says while the intent behind the amendment may have been good, the changes weren’t well thought out and “gutted” HB 65’s child exploitation protections in his view.

“This legislative body is willing to say that 14, 15, 16-year-olds can freely sext without any parental input?” Balderas said. “That’s ludicrous and has to be stopped.”

Staff from the AG’s office who was there providing technical support walked out of the committee as soon as the amendment to HB 65, a move Munoz says is unprecedented and disappointing.

“When someone is there for a bill and that bill gets amended, they don’t leave, they fight for the bill,” said Munoz. “[The AG’s office] just gave up and left.”

Balderas isn’t apologizing and defended his staff’s actions.

“My prosecutors will always be frustrated with a political process that doesn’t put children first,” Balderas said.

HB 65 is awaiting a vote by the full Senate. If it clears that hurdle, the full House would have to agree to changes made.

Another bill being heard in the Senate would make teen sexting a misdemeanor instead of a felony and would allow teens to get the charge wiped off their record when they turn 18.

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