Originally created 03/04/03

Child molestation bill stalls over concerns it's too broad



ATLANTA -- A bill requiring jail time for child molesters and setting up a crime of obscene Internet conduct stalled Monday amid concerns the bill goes too far.

The House Judiciary Committee decided to hold the bill for more revisions. Lawmakers took issue with the mandatory three-year prison sentence and the new language on Internet behavior and so-called "morphing," where technology is used to blend a child's body with adult parts to skirt child pornography laws.

Under the bill, it would be illegal to send sexually explicit Internet messages to children. The crime would be a felony for adults, but still a misdemeanor for juveniles. That means a 17-year-old boy could be convicted for sending a racy e-mail to his 17-year-old girlfriend.

"So it would be legal for 17-year-olds to have sex, but not to talk about it on the Internet?" asked Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Atlanta.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Mike Boggs of Waycross, said he would consider changing his measure to exempt people in their late teens.

Another squabble broke out over the proposed three-year sentences. Currently, some first-time child molesters can get probation, usually if their crimes didn't involve touching the child. Rep. Jim Stokes, D-Covington, challenged Boggs on the mandatory jail time.

"Are we going to start throwing 17-year-olds in jail for three years for having sex with their girlfriend? I don't think that's what the people of Georgia really want," Stokes said.

Another committee member, Democratic Rep. Stephanie Benfield of Decatur, challenged the idea because the allegation of child molestation is often falsely leveled during divorces.

"It's not uncommon in a custody battle for one of the parents to make an allegation of child molestation to gain an advantage," she said.

Boggs defended his bill. He complained that lawmakers were too concerned with people accused of child molestation.

"The impetus was not to look at the rights of defendants. The impetus was to look at the rights of children," he said.

The committee decided not to vote on Boggs' bill. It may be considered later.

Another proposal by Boggs won much quicker acceptance Monday. A separate bill he introduced, making it a felony for convicted molesters not to comply with the sex crimes registry after release from prison, was agreed to unanimously.

That bill now proceeds to the House Rules Committee, which schedules bills for a full House vote.