Inslee signs bill that shields sexting teens from adult law

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a measure aimed at keeping youth who send sexually explicit texts from being charged under adult sex crime laws.

The bill, signed Wednesday, creates a new group of crimes reserved specifically for minors who are caught with explicit images of other minors.

Under current Washington law, the statutes that criminalize youth exchanging such images are the same ones originally written to target adults for child pornography, which include broad language banning the possession, production, or exchange of explicit images of minors. As felonies, many child pornography crimes also require registration in the state's public sex offender database.

Most of the new youth-only crimes would be set as misdemeanors, a status that would exempt convicted youth from having to register as sex offenders.

The new law, which takes effect at the end of July, creates a separate set of crimes only applicable to under-18 offenders, making it a misdemeanor instead of a felony for a minor to exchange images of another minor, with an exception for images of some types of sex acts.

Exchanging images of a child 12 or younger would remain a felony, as would the sale of images of another minor, but under new, minors-only criminal definitions.