DENVER -- There was a time when you passed a note to a girl or a boy you liked in school and hoped they would reciprocate; but now, thanks to technology, some of the messages getting passed back and forth aren't your typical love letter -- they are explicit messages or photos.
As it stands, if a child is caught sexting, they would be charged with a felony in Colorado. But now, state lawmakers have reached a deal to change that and reduce the punishment.
House Bill 1302 is a compromise and reduces the punishment for minors caught sexting. It unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
"This is an issue that's come up a lot over many, many years even before Cañon City," said Brie Franklin, the executive director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
At the small town, high school administrators uncovered hundreds of students were collecting and sharing nude photos. The teens were using secret photo vault apps that were disguised as calculators to store the photos.
Cañon City high school students were suspended, but never faced criminal charges because currently prosecutors have few options.
"Only option is a felony, which carries with it registration as a sex offender," said Franklin.
HB1302 would change that by creating lower-level penalties. Consensual sexting between minors would be a civil infraction, and would come with fines and required education.
"It's very common, and I think we can educate youth around this, in order to help better understand the possible implications that this might have for them in their future life," said Franklin.
Anyone over the age of 14 or within four years of the victim's age who has a nude photo of a teen without their permission would be committing a petty offense. If a teen shares or posts that nude photo, they would be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor.
Felony charges are still on the table, but would be at the district attorney's discretion.
However, if a teen gets a nude photo they didn't ask for -- they have three days to delete and notify a school counselor or law enforcement. If they do, it's not a crime.
"Once it's out there even if it was consensual, it is hard to control," said Franklin.
HB1302 will now go to the house floor for a vote.