Colorado’s HB19-1030 sexting bill passes another House committee
March 15, 2019
A state bill that seeks to close a gap allowing adults to “sext” or send sexually explicit text messages to minors passed the Colorado House’s Judiciary Committee late Thursday night, March 14.
In an email Friday, the bill’s sponsor Rep. Matt Soper (R-Delta) said HB19-1030 is heading “to the House floor for a second reading where all 65 members of the House of Representatives will have the opportunity to weigh in on the bill.”
Soper said the bill will need at least 33 votes in the House before it can go to the Colorado Senate where Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) and Senator Rachel Zenzinger (D-Arvada) will help lead a bipartisan effort to guide the bill through the Senate.
HB19-1030, otherwise known as Colorado’s “sexting bill,” was filed in response to the case of Justin Dean Folley, who was arrested Aug. 17, 2017, put on trial, and subsequently acquitted Dec. 10.
According to prosecutors, Folley elicited three nude photographs of a female student over the course of a sexually explicit text message exchange and sent her a video of himself masturbating.
A Moffat County jury heard in graphic detail about how Folley systematically groomed one of his female students — who, at the time, was 14 or 15 years old — through a series of sexually charged text message conversations that continued throughout the girl's freshman year of high school.
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The jury was given 30 pages of screenshots detailing the exchanges — exchanges in which Folley told the victim of his desire to have sex with her, asked her "how bad" she wanted it to happen, and quizzed her as to whether she had ever masturbated.
But those messages contained no direct evidence of images or video, and as the defense reiterated during jury selection and throughout the trial, it is not against the law for an adult or a person in a position of trust to send messages of a sexual nature to a minor, so long as those messages contain words only and not images.
The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office could not provide copies of the alleged images or video themselves, as they had allegedly been exchanged over Snapchat, an app that automatically deletes images after a short viewing window.
But Folley’s acquittal could be the last of its kind in Colorado if House Bill 19-1030 is passed into law. Earlier versions of the bill would make it a Class 6 felony for any “person in a position of trust” to send sexually explicit texts to someone younger than 18 years old.
Many in the Craig and Moffat County communities helped lead the charge to enact HB 19-1030 and began their work in the weeks following Folley’s acquittal.
“I was made aware of the Justin Folley case soon after he was acquitted,” said District 3 Colorado State Board of Education member Joyce Rankin in a January email. “Moffat school Superintendent Dave Ulrich gave me a call and told me of the situation and concern of the community. He asked what we could do and how he could help. I read the articles posted online and, because I represent Moffat County on the State Board of Education, I contacted some Western Slope legislators to see if any of them had not reached their bill limit for this legislative session. Thankfully, Rep. Matt Soper (R- Delta) agreed to carry HB 19-1030 this year. With bipartisan support, I believe we have a good chance of passing this bill this year.”
Rep. Soper said Friday if he and co-sponsor Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Eagle) can get the bill passed in the House in the next one or two weeks, it could move quickly in the Senate under Sen. Bob Rankin (R- Carbondale) and Senator Rachel Zenzinger (D-Arvada). In an interview Tuesday, Sen. Rankin said the bill has been amended to criminalize ‘a person in a position of trust’ who sends electronic messages of a sexual nature to minors in their care.
“The strikethrough versions really tightened the bill up,” Sen. Rankin said of the amended HB19-1030.
Once he gets his hands on the amended bill in the Senate, Sen. Rankin said he will push to pass it.
“I'll be presenting it in the Senate committee,” Sen. Rankin said Tuesday. “Hopefully I'll get it on the consent calendar. But if not, I'll be presenting it on the Senate floor.”
Rep. Soper said he doesn’t expect the bill to make it to the governor’s desk before April due to a few members and some special interest groups who oppose any new criminal statutes in Colorado, even if the new criminal statute “is to close a gap that was unintended in current law.”
“We want to protect our kids and end the practice of luring, false/coerced consent, grooming, and preying on juveniles for sexual exploitation and solicitation,” Soper said in an email. “Bottom line, an adult, in a position of trust (think quasi-parent), should not be sexting and luring minors for sexual purposes. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. This behavior is not right and should never be tolerated.”
Lauren Blair and Jim Patterson contributed to this report. Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or at email@example.com.