News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Indiana Legislature

August 19, 2011

Tougher penalties: Committees look at crimes against children

INDIANAPOLIS — Two legislative study committees charged with paring down Indiana’s criminal code are also looking at racheting up penalties for crimes against children.

Included on their list is legislation aimed at curbing what they fear will be an influx of underage prostitutes in Indianapolis when 2012 Super Bowl is played in Indianapolis next year. 

The lawmakers – who in past meetings this summer have considered reducing penalties for drug and property crimes – are also looking at a proposed changes to the criminal code that would increase prison time for Internet predators soliciting sex from minors.

They’re also considering legislation that would create a do-not-contact registry designed to keep email marketers from pitching alcohol, tobacco, and pornography to children.

“We need to do more to protect our children,” said state Sen. Randy Head, a Republican from Logansport and former prosecutor who said sex crimes against children are often difficult to prove and often traumatic for the child who is the victim.

On Thursday, Head and fellow members of the legislature’s Criminal Code Commission heard Indiana Deputy Attorney General David Miller say that major sporting events that attract large crowds of men also attract a bustling sex trade that exploits vulnerable children.

“It’s a problem that happens under the radar,” Miller said, citing similar concerns from past Super Bowl host cities.

Miller’s boss, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller wants the commission to support an effort to fast-track legislation that would add child trafficking to the state’s sex offenses. It would expand the state’s current law against human trafficking, to give state and local police more tools to go after adults who force children into the sex trade.

The law would have to be passed by the legislature and signed by the governor early in the 2012 legislative session to be effective by the first weekend in February, when the Super Bowl is scheduled to be played in Lucas Oil Stadium, located just blocks from the Statehouse.

The commission was also asked by Head to support legislation that would increase penalties for Internet predators who solicit sex from minors. The change would allow for some cases to be charged as a Class B felony, which carries tougher penalties than the current law.

Testifying in favor of it was Darin Odier, an Indianapolis police detective who investigates cyber-crime. Odier described undercover operations in which he went online to pose as a 13-year-old girl in Internet chat rooms. He said five undercover investigations, each lasting two weeks, netted 98 convictions of adults charged of attempted child soliciation.

Also on Thursday, the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee heard from Head about proposed legislation that would create a do-not-contact registry for minors.

Akin to the state’s Do Not Call list, which prevents telemarketers from contacting people who’ve signed up with the state, it would let parents sign up to keep their children from being contacted, via email, cell phone, or through other electronic contact points, from any company advertising alcohol, tobacco, or sexually explicit  material.

A bill to create such a registry passed through the state House with no opposition in the last session, but stalled in the Senate after opposition arose from the email industry. Representatives from the email marketing industry spoke against the registry during Thursday’s committee meeting, saying it would be costly to enforce and difficult to keep the do-not-contact database secure.

Some committee members wanted to know if a do-not-contact registry could be expanded to include adults eager to block the “spam” emails that arrive in their inboxes. “It’s junk and I don’t want it,” said state Rep. Vernon Smith, a Democrat from Gary.

The study committees have until October to continue meeting before they issue recommendations for legislation that could be introduced in the next legislative session.

Maureen Hayden is Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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