House approves expanded sex offender legislation

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(Host) The House has approved legislation that expands Vermont’s sex offender registry.

The bill also outlaws "sexting". That’s when a person sends a sexually explicit photograph to someone else using a cell phone or a computer.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has more.

(Kinzel) The legislation expands the number of people who will be required to be listed on Vermont’s Sex Offenders Registry and it allows the Registry to identify individuals who are deemed to be a high risk or haven’t successfully complied with treatment programs.

House Judiciary chairman Bill Lippert said the bill is designed to give the public more information about convicted sex offenders:

(Lippert) "I think that we have brought to you a bill that does respond to the desire of many in the public to have a greater access to offender registry through the Internet Registry.  I believe we have strengthened the bill by adding requirements particularly that will make certain that Vermont is never perceived as a haven for sex offenders from other jurisdictions.

The bill also addresses a practice known as "sexting."  This is when a person sends a sexually explicit photo of himself or herself to another person using their cell phone or computer.

When the Senate passed its version of this bill, it essentially decriminalized "sexting" among minors if there was no threat or coercion involved in the activity.

The House bill takes a different approach – a minor convicted of "sexting" would be remanded to the diversion program, and adults would face up to 6 months in jail.  Lippert said his committee wanted to send a clear message about "sexting" to young people:

(Lippert) "Make it clear that it’s not something that’s appropriate that gives our state’s attorneys a range of options from doing absolutely nothing to using the new provisions that we provided but referring young people to hopefully primarily to either a reparative board or diversion board and keeping those proceedings as completely within the juvenile court system and keeping them outside of the sex offenders registry where they do not belong."

And Lippert says a key part of the bill calls an expansion of education programs for young people on this subject:

(Lippert) "We ask the Sexual Violence Prevention task force to include the risks of using computers and electronic communication devices to transmit indecent and inappropriate images in the work that they’re doing."

A House – Senate conference committee will now meet in an effort to resolve the different approaches taken by the two chambers with this bill.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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