Online or electronic solicitation of prostitution may become a crime, if House Bill 295 passes.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim D. Lewis (R-Rio Rancho), is commonly known as the “Burque Pops bill” after former UNM president F. Chris Garcia, who made headlines in June 2011 for allegedly moderating a website connecting prostitutes with clients using the handle “Burque Pops.”
The bill, with an amendment, passed unanimously through the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday evening, and is scheduled to be heard next in the House Judiciary Committee, hearing date to be determined.
The Public Defender Department notes that the version of bill without amendment would not actually change existing prostitution laws.
The PDD said the bill’s language states an online or electronic forum would not constitute “a house of prostitution” and instead would only criminalize the use of an online or electronic forum to maintain an existing house of prostitution. According to the PPD, the bill would need to specifically call such online or electronic spaces houses of prostitution in order to accomplish the desired legal effect.
The amended version of the bill that passed added a provision addressing this, explicitly stating that “a computer, internet website or other virtual or online forum” is the same as a physical location “where prostitution is practiced, encouraged or allowed.”
F. Chris Garcia’s case would not be affected by any new legal standards the bill would stipulate.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, prosecutors plan to continue to the case against Garcia using other related charges, such as conspiracy to promote prostitution. This would entail proving Garcia had consciously planned to facilitate liaisons between prostitutes and clients, by procuring prostitutes for clients, or providing transportation for prostitutes or clients, or maintaining, supervising, establishing, renting or owning a house of prostitution.
In other House news, HB 27, “Expand Lottery Scholarship Eligibility,” sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton (D-Albuquerque), is set to be heard in the House Education Committee on Friday.
The bill would expand Lottery Scholarship eligibility to students who are accepted into a New Mexico university or college within two years of high school graduation or of receiving a GED, or within two years of being honorably or medically discharged from the U.S. armed forces. As is, Lottery Scholarship eligibility is restricted to students who are accepted into a New Mexico university or college immediately after high school graduation or after receiving a GED, or within 120 days of receiving an honorable or medical discharge from the U.S. armed forces.
According to the Legislative Education Study Committee bill analysis released at the end of last week, the Higher Education Department analysis projects that the change would increase the number of eligible New Mexican students from 7,100 to 7,800. This would result in a $12.1 million increase in Lottery Scholarship operating costs during the next three fiscal years if each additional student were to be awarded full tuition, as recipients are now.