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House bill makes electronic solicitation of child felony crime

A bill now in a Minnesota Legislature conference committee makes electronic solicitation of children a felony crime.

The omnibus public safety policy conference committee meets today.

The House version expands the crime of computer solicitation of children to include cases where an offender uses an electronic communications system, or a telecommunications, wire or radio communications system, or other electronic device capable of electronic data storage or transmission, according to a bill summary.

Reps. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, and Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, issued a joint statement about the bill in light of Bemidji Pioneer coverage of a 15-year-old Bemidji girl who ran away from home to meet a man in Vermont whom she became familiar with on the Internet.

A 26-year-old Vermont man is being held in the case, charged with enticing a minor for inappropriate sexual contact, a felony. He allegedly sent the girl a bus ticket after they met through the Internet and communicated through cell phone and by text-messaging, officials said.

Persell and Sailer said they issued a statement to stress the need to keep the new provision to strengthen predatory laws in the final public safety bill.

"The House public safety bill expands the crime of soliciting children to include all forms of electronic communication and forbids predatory offenders from accessing social networking Web sites such as Facebook and My Space," said Persell. "It is imperative that this provision be included in the final bill."

Under the expanded "electronic solicitation of children" offense, a person 18 years of age or older is guilty of a felony if he or she uses a computer, the Internet, or an electronic device to communicate with a child with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person and:

-- "solicits" a child to engage in sexual conduct

-- communicates in a "sexually explicit" manner with a child

-- distributes "sexually explicit" material to a child

Minnesota law already provides for sexual predators to register their whereabouts at all times. The omnibus public safety bill would also require that predatory offenders be issued lime green license plates.

It also prohibits registered predatory offenders who are on intensive supervised release from accessing or using instant messaging, chat room or social networking Web sites that permit minors to participate.

"The conferencing of the House bill with the Senate version begins this week," said Sailer. "This incident in the Bemidji area reinforces the fact that tougher legislation is needed; I encourage the conferees to keep this provision in the bill, and the governor to sign it into law."

Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, was appointed by the Senate to the conference committee.