Bill to reduce 'sexting' penalties approved in judiciary committee
HARTFORD -- Legislation that would reduce penalties for "sexting" among youngsters under the age of 18 was approved by the Judiciary Committee on Monday.
If approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor, it would give prosecutors an alternative to pursuing child pornography charges against minors who send nude or semi-nude photographs of themselves or their friends over the Internet.
Rep. Arthur J. O'Neill, R-Southbury, ranking member of the committee, said that hundreds of young teens, unaware of the law, have been engaging in the Internet trafficking of such photos without realizing they're committing felonies.
"Currently, prosecutors are faced with the serious charge of child pornography, or nothing at all," said O'Neill, adding that the lesser misdemeanor charge is more appropriate.
In another bill, the committee, by a vote of 23-20, approved an extension to the statute of limitations law, allowing victims of sexual abuse as children to seek criminal prosecution of their abusers beyond the current limit of age 48.
It was based on the case of Dr. George Reardon, a deceased former pediatrician at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, who left photo evidence found hidden in his former home of decades of sexual abuse of children.
"Sexual assault in children destroys the possibility, in most cases, of an adult life that can be lived well," said Sen. Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester. "We spent a lot of time in this committee talking about the law, but not about justice."
In 2002, the Legislature extended the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse prosecution from the maximum age of 35 to 48. "People who are victims and not likely to come forward right away," said Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, committee co-chairman. "For many years the sexual abuse of children was not taken seriously."
The new law would also apply to the statewide cases of so-called pedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church.
Under the proposal, if approved in the House and Senate and signed into law, plaintiffs would have to present documentary or other compelling evidence and prove that a civil suit was pending to extend the statute of limitations beyond age 48.
"Today was a victory for the victims of child sexual abuse in Connecticut," said Rep. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, in whose district the photographic evidence was found in 2007. "I think it was a spirited debate, and in the end, given the very serious nature of these crimes, legislators voted on the side of allowing the victims to have access to the courts."
On its deadline day, the committee approved dozens of bills, including legislation that would allow police investigating drunken-boating incidents to test the blood alcohol of operators beyond the two-hour limit in current law.
The proposal was the result of a July 2007, fatality on the Connecticut River in which a woman was killed and her husband severely injured. The alleged drunken pilot of the boat that smashed into theirs was administered a blood-alcohol test two hours and 10 minutes after the collision, and the test was invalidated.
"I don't see any difference between a drunken driver on the road and a drunken driver on the water," said Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, another committee member.
As the minutes ticked down to the committee's 5 p.m. deadline, dozens of items were still left on the committee's 80-item agenda.
Sensing Republican opposition to a bill on inmate re-entry that would have prevented prospective employers from asking job applicants for details on their criminal records during initial screening, Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford, co-chairman pulled the bill from debate, in a victory for minority Republicans.
Action on a final bill that would have allowed food-service and retail workers an opportunity to sue their employers who deny them promotions because of previous criminal convictions also failed to reach a vote and died at 5 p.m.
"You can't call it anything but an act of discrimination," said Sen. Edwin A. Gomes, D-Bridgeport, a committee member, during the 15-minute debate.
Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, another member of the panel, said the bill was narrowly drafted only for employees who had their criminal records erased through a pardon or a process called accelerated rehabilitation, for first-time offenders.
Like most bills that die in committee, there's always a chance they will be revived as an amendment and attached to a related bill in the House and Senate prior to the legislative deadline of midnight May 5.