JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A handful of new laws went into effect in Florida on Saturday. One is a controversial statute that changed the consequences for a teen caught sending or receiving sexually explicit photos.
The old law used to be that any minor caught sending or receiving explicit text message pictures, commonly referred to as sexting, could have been charged with a felony and be forced to register as a sex offender. Under the new law, the punishment is more lenient.
Suzanne Irish, the mother of 4, knows first hand how scary the issue is for a parent. Irish has 3 boys who are old enough to own cell phones.
"You hate to see them be a sex offender, you know, classified that way, for an innocent mistake. However you want some kind of consequence so they learn and don't do it again," said Irish.
Under the new Florida law, a first offense for teen sexting is non-criminal and is punishable by up to 8 hours of community service or a 60 dollar fine. The second offense is a misdemeanor and the third becomes a felony, with a maximum 5-year prison sentence.
Donna Mancini said the old law was too harsh. She said she is not sure her own two sons knew how severe the penalties for sexting could have been.
"If you were to ask them last week, 'If you were caught sexting do you know the exact legal consequences of that?', I don't know if they can absolutely tell you," said Mancini.
State representative Joe Abruzzo helped rewrite the law.
"The punishment did not fit the crime, at the end of the day, we're not going to label you a sex offender. It gives parents and the school the opportunity to let them know this could become serious if you continue," said Abruzzo.
Other states, like New Jersey and Texas have also altered their sexting laws to lessen the punishment for young first-time offenders.
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