The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted unanimously at around 5pm today for an amended bill that would fill a gap in state law and make it illegal for New Mexico residents to promote prostitution online.
The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled last week that websites, according to state law, do not count as a "place" for promoting prostitution. The justices also advised the legislature to update statutes to remedy this omission in what counts as a place.
State statutes call for prosecuting the promotion of prostitution when it occurs in a "house" or some other physical place. Today's bill expands the definition of "place" to include "a computer, a website, or any other virtual or online forum."
State Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Sandoval, introduced the online prostitution legislation considered today in committee. He amended his bill last week because of concerns that came up from the Legislative Finance Committee and during the HCPAC meeting.
The LFC mentioned a shortcoming in the original bill identified by the state's Public Defender Department. The PDD pointed out the bill attempted to prohibit the online promotion of prostitution without changing the definition of "place" in state statute.
At last Thursday's HCPAC meeting, the committee received an amendment that Lewis had prepared or received only an hour previously. Because committee and audience members had questions, HCPAC told Lewis to have Legislative Council Services draft his amendment.
State Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo, asked on Thursday if this online prostitution bill contained a loophole for websites whose owner and operator lived out of state. Michael Fricke, Assistant District Attorney in Albuquerque, said New Mexico prosecutes only state residents.
State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Bernalillo, asked today what would happen if a computer user accidentally clicked on a prostitution website while surfing the web. Lewis said his bill targets owners and marketers, not users, of prostitution websites.
Roybal Caballero further asked if the proposed legislation treated the designers and owners of these websites differently. Fricke explained the bill from Lewis would not prosecute website hosts or designers if they did not know the website would promote prostitution.
Kimberly Chavez Cook, from the PDD, both today and Thursday, expressed her belief that prosecutors could use existing sections of statute to target online prostitution. If true, Fricke may use this argument to prosecute "Burque Pops" under existing law.
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