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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dubious constitutionality slows down new sex offender bill

news@dailylobo.com

Constitutional challenges have slowed down a bill that would ban sex offenders from using social networking sites and chat rooms.

House Bill 48, sponsored by Rep. Nate Gentry (R-Albuquerque), would prohibit all registered sex offenders from accessing social networking sites, instant messaging systems or chat rooms, for life. The bill does not say how the prohibitions would be enforced.

The bill would institute a two-tiered penalty system for registered sex offenders wherein the first use of a social networking site or similar avenue would be considered a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, and any subsequent uses would be considered fourth-degree felonies punishable by 18 months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

According to the fiscal impact report released last week, the bill, “No Sex Offender Use of Certain Media,” could be considered unconstitutional because it’s “an overly broad … infringement on a person’s right to free speech” under the First Amendment.

Another challenge to the bill was that when certain social networking site prohibitions have been put in place, they have only been during a sex offender’s probation or parole periods and also if the sex offender’s offense involved a minor, whereas this bill applies to all sex offenders.

Bills that have tried to ban all sex offenders from such online media have been defeated in Louisiana and Nebraska.

Though HB 48 was defeated unanimously in the House on Tuesday, a proposed revision took its place later that day. Rather than applying the restriction to all sex offenders, the revision would prohibit only those sex offenders whose offenses involved minors or the use of the Internet, or both, from using such sites. All other parts of the bill would remain the same.

The revision passed unanimously through the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday, and is headed to the House Judiciary Committee next, hearing date to be determined.

In Senate news, Senate Bill 337, co-sponsored by Sen. Benny Shendo (D-Jemez Pueblo) and Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage (R-Kirtland), passed unanimously through the Senate Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee Tuesday afternoon. Known as “UNM Native American Student Intervention”, the bill would appropriate $275,000 to the University to fund Native American student intervention and retention. Neither the bill nor its fiscal impact report specifies what “intervention and retention” entails.

According to the fiscal impact report released earlier this week, the money would go toward hiring student advisers working in the University’s American Indian Student Services program. The bill duplicates a provision within the General Appropriation Act to fund that program and others like it within the University’s minority student services programs umbrella. It will head to the Senate Finance Committee next, hearing date to be determined.