Senate Revises Child Online Exploitation Bill for House Reconsideration

Introduction

In a significant move aimed at combating child exploitation online, the House recently passed legislation that increases penalties for such offenses. However, the Senate has unanimously approved the legislation with new language, necessitating the House to reexamine the bill. The new wording focuses on what is described as “grooming language,” which is now referred to in the bill as “harmful communication to a minor.” This shift in language is a key aspect of the bill, which was initially introduced by Republican Rep. Jessica Baker and later amended by Republican Sen. Jonathan Martin.

Three Key Points

1. Amended Language: The newly introduced term, “harmful communication to a minor,” includes explicit and detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual activity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement that is harmful to minors. Any adult indulging in such communication to a minor could face a third-degree felony charge.

2. No Defence for Ignorance: The bill states that the defendant’s unawareness of a minor’s age, a minor’s misrepresentation of their age, a bona fide belief of a minor’s age, or a minor’s consent cannot be used as a defense in the prosecution. This new provision effectively removes the potential for victim-blaming from the bill’s language.

3. Possible Exceptions: Sen. Martin has suggested certain exceptions for interpretation, such as when an 18-year-old communicates with a 17-year-old. Also, “sex education” that is not “harmful” wouldn’t likely qualify for the felony penalty.

Conclusion

The rest of the legislation remains unchanged. It proposes an increase in the points used by prosecutors and Judges in the offense severity ranking chart (OSRC) formula. This formula determines penalties for heinous crimes involving “possession, promotion, and production of child sexual abuse material.” The legislation aims to tackle Florida’s relative leniency on online child exploitation compared to other states and the federal government.

The proposed laws include prohibiting a person from using a child in a sexual performance, promoting a sexual performance by a child, possessing child pornography with the intent to promote, and possessing or intentionally viewing child pornography. By increasing the offense severity ranking for these specified child exploitation offenses, the bill could potentially increase the minimum sentence for a person convicted of such offenses.

The bill could lead to more people serving longer prison sentences for these crimes. An analysis of the legislation suggests that it may have a positive indeterminate impact on jail and prison beds by increasing the OSRC ranking for specified child exploitation offenses. This could result in increased prison admissions or longer terms of incarceration for persons convicted of such offenses.

This legislation is a significant step towards addressing the issue of online child exploitation. It underscores the urgent need to protect minors from harmful online interactions and demonstrates the government’s commitment to toughening the penalties for such heinous crimes. The bill sends a strong message that child exploitation will not be tolerated and that those who engage in it will face severe consequences.

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