Originally published in the Youngstown Vindicator.

It was very unfortunate to read The Vindicator editorial (“Ohio Senate Should Act to Approve Sexting Bill,” July 23, 2018) pushing Ohio’s juvenile sexting bill, as that opinion mirrors the same misguided, counterproductive thinking continually coming from our Statehouse.

It is true prosecutors may, if they so wish, charge juveniles with serious sex offenses for engaging in sexting. I have no doubt most Ohioans oppose such harsh measures for youthful indiscretions. As a purported “solution,” House Bill 355 creates the brand new criminal offense, “Possession of Sexually Explicit Digital Material,” a first-degree misdemeanor.

HB 355 also establishes a court diversion program where those convicted of this new crime may receive education as to the consequences of sexting. If they complete the program, charges are dropped. However, absolutely nothing in HB 355 requires prosecutors or courts to utilize this proposed law or the diversion program as alternatives to the felony offense. They would only be options.

If legislators are so concerned about kids receiving harsh punishments for this behavior, the best path is to simply pass a bill removing such power – whether a felony or misdemeanor – from prosecutors and courts.

Likewise, any positive benefits from educating Ohio’s youth about problems arising from sexting do not require kids first getting busted for these actions. Believe it or not, such educational efforts already exist, and have nothing to do with the criminal justice system. Ohio legislators should work to expand these programs.

Sure, juvenile sexting raises some concerns. But HB 355 also begs the question of why Ohio politicians think they need to pass any laws to punish two 17-year-olds in a consensual relationship who send nude pictures to each other. Given Ohio’s numerous challenges, House Bill 355 is not how our elected officials should spend their time and energy.