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Gov. Martinez signs bill increasing child pornography penalties

SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation Thursday increasing New Mexico’s penalties for possessing, distributing or manufacturing child pornography.

However, although she signed the bill, the two-term Republican governor said she sees a flaw in it — a provision that exempts consensual “sexting” by teenagers.

Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, also opposed the provision during this year’s 30-day legislative session, arguing it creates a dangerous loophole.

But some lawmakers said the provision was important to ensure that teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 who engage in “sexting,” or electronically sending sexually explicit images, are not charged with child pornography possession.

In announcing she had signed the bill, Martinez pointed out she could not line-item veto the provision — only bills dealing with spending can be partly vetoed — and either had to sign the bill in its entirety or veto it.

“I don’t support the so-called ‘sexting’ amendment, as I believe the reasoning behind it is misinformed and it was not carefully considered,” Martinez, a former prosecutor, said in a news release.

She also called on lawmakers to revisit the sexting issue in the 2017 legislative session.

After being revised several times on its way through the Legislature, this year’s bill ended up increasing the potential prison time to 10 years — 11 years, in some cases — for child pornography possession, and ramping up penalties for manufacturing and distribution, as well.

The legislation, House Bill 65, is intended to fix a situation created by a 2014 New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that effectively said 18 months was the maximum sentence for possession, no matter how many images the offender possessed.

It was sponsored by Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, and Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, and took effect immediately Thursday upon being signed by the governor.

In her announcement, Martinez described the bill as an “important step forward in protecting our children from exploitation.”

The bill is just the second piece of legislation from this year’s 30-day session signed by Martinez. The first was the so-called feed bill that pays for the session’s expenditures.

The governor has until March 9 to act on the remaining 99 bills approved by lawmakers.

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